The article I selected is from The Crime Report and was published on November 18, 2019. The article focuses on the frustrations, risks and impact of teenagers that commit minor crimes and then become “trapped” in the adult criminal justice system (TCR Staff). What lead me to choose this article is that it had the full Texas report embedded in the article which provided additional real examples of people directly impacted by Texas’ failure to raise the age of juveniles being placed in the adult system (Texas Criminal Justice Coalition). This essay will provide a summary of the readings mentioned and provide some linkages to the learnings from the textbook and class learning.
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The article in question, titled Teens Behind Bars: ‘I Felt Like I Was Losing My Mind, tells the story of three young men whose lives were disfigured by unusually harsh prison sentences and violent living conditions. All three men got convicted when they were underage teenagers for minor offences. Leon (names changed) was arrested on the grounds of marijuana possession when he was seventeen. During his seven-and-a-half years prison sentence, Leon was subjected to abuse and poor treatment from prison guards. His imprisonment made him miss out on significant events in his family’s life such as the birth of his baby brother. Leon could not call home to hear from his parents, and when he protested that unreasonable prohibition, he ended up in solitary confinement – a psychologically torturing experience for any person, let alone a teenager.
Jose was sentenced to five years in prison when he was seventeen. The court’s ruling was heavily influenced by the fact that it was the teenager’s second offence. Akin to Leon, Jose was traumatized by what he experienced in prison. After release, he spoke out about the twisted system that fails to treat teenagers with fairness and execute restorative rather than punitive justice. Lastly, Jeremiah, who received a prison sentence for battery and aggravated assault, was pushed to the brink of suicide. At the age of seventeen, Jeremiah was put through the ordeal that is solitary confinement and was denied parole. The man reports that at some point, he was holding a blade in his hands, ready to take his own lives.
These tragic stories of young adults facing the harsh reality of the criminal justice system reveal the horrifying truth and inconsistencies in Texas legislation. As Texas Criminal Justice coalition reports, what Leon, Jose, and Jeremiah were confronted with in prison was far from rare or exceptional. In fact, in Texas, the use of brute force against prisoners is ubiquitous. As Texas Criminal Justice Coalition reports, between 2008 and 2017, Texas prisons saw a 50% upstick in the number of use-of-violence cases.
The overwhelming majority of teenagers recount prison violence as the most terrifying reality of confinement. As TCR staff reports, kids in adult jails and prisons are far more likely to be physically or sexually assaulted. What is even more concerning is that as opposed to kids in juvenile detention facilities, underage prisoners are 36 times more likely to commit suicide.
Apart from poor conditions and guards’ abuse of power, there are more problems to juvenile jurisdiction. As Jose pointed out in his story, teenagers are not given enough chances to remorse and rehabilitate. TCR staff argues that it is a great mistake on the system’s part because teenagers’ brains are characterized by higher plasticity and malleability. Misconduct at a young age does not have to define a young person’s entire life. It is believed that teenagers are corrigible: they can be taught to behave and abide the law. As Fuller states, a system designed specifically for teenagers can remove the stigma around deviant behavior and start an honest conversation about the issue (48). Restorative justice has the power to not only address the “symptoms” but also locate the cause for misconduct and eradicate it.
Another issue concerns 17 year old teenagers in particular: since they are on the verge of being of age, they are treated unpredictably by the system. Texas Criminal Justice Coalition reports that because of Texas legislation, judges have the power to either send teenagers to juvenile courts or treat them as adults. In the report, it says that there are practically no clear guidelines on how to handle juvenile misconduct: incidents are dealt with on a case-to-case basis. What aggravates the situation further is that after the arrest, some teenagers cannot even reach to their families. In case they end up in the adult justice system, they are defenseless and vulnerable to abuse and manipulations. Teenagers are actively harmed by current legislation when all they need is redirection in life.
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Restorative justice system is a century-old concept that has yet to be fully adopted by the Texas courts. The article Teens Behind Bars: ‘I Felt Like I Was Losing My Mind’ captures three tragic stories of teenagers whose lives were broken by the system. Leon, Jose, and Jeremiah received unusually long and harsh prison sentences for minor offences and were treated like adults in court despite being underage. All three men were traumatized by the experience, with one of them even ideating suicide. The article and supplementary materials clearly show that the current system is dysfunctional as it does more harm than good. Teenagers need to have a chance for rehabilitation and not be exposed to prison experience, absence of legal representatives, and guards’ violence.
Fuller, John. Introduction to Criminal Justice: A Brief Edition. Oxford University Press, 2019.
TCR Staff. “Teens Behind Bars: ‘I Felt Like I Was Losing My Mind.’” The Crime Report: Your Criminal Justice Network. 2019. Web.
Texas Criminal Justice Coalition. Seventeen in the adult Justice System: Profiles of People Directly Impacted by Texas’ Failure to Raise the Age, 2019.