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An Epidemic of Abuse Inside Juvenile Institutions

At the close of my last blog ("More Abuse in Youth Prisons") I suggested doing a simple search on the Internet and type in words like "abuse in juvenile institutions" and select some states at random.  I said at the time that I would continue my search.  And so I did.  And what I found was way beyond what I expected.  I don't often like to use the word "epidemic" since it is so value-loaded and defies precise definition.  One definition from Webster's includes "widespread growth" and so I think I can safely say that abuse within juvenile institutions can be described as an "epidemic."

I started my search with South Dakota, since I recall the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice being consulted for a scandal that was occurring there within some of their juvenile prisons.  I first found a story called "Cape Fear," which appeared in Mother Jones back in December, 2000. The link brought me to a story about the death of a 14-year-old girl in a boot camp.  I read the story and as I scrolled down to the bottom I saw two links and the first one was called "BOOT CAMP FOR KIDS: Torturing Teens for Fun and Profit."   So I clicked on this and what I found was a list of 207 news reports on abuse inside not only boot camps but other institutions where kids are locked up. Not only this, but there were other links to more stories, such as one that appeared in the St. Petersburg Times called "For their own good: a St. Petersburg Times special report on child abuse at the Florida School for Boys."  The story, which made quite a splash when it came out in April, 2009, is about a group of men in their 50s who have come forward to tell of the abuse they suffered at this prison.  They testified that bodies were buried on the premises. (It reminded me of the bodies buried at an Arkansas prison about 50 years ago.) A time-line shows that investigations of abuse began in 1903 when a Florida senate committee said that "We have no hesitancy in saying, under its present management it is nothing more nor less than a prison, where juvenile prisoners are confined." A 1968 report called this institution "Hell's 1,400 Acres."  

There are several articles concerning scandals within the State of Texas. One story noted that "Thousands of juvenile inmates could be back out on the streets within a few months -- many who committed crimes in East Texas. That's the latest in a scandal within the Texas Youth Commission, where there have been allegations of improper conduct and sexual abuse at TYC facilities."  Within one institution a youth said "When they slammed my head against the concrete, they tried to move the camera so it wouldn't see."   

Then there is the story of one facility described as follows: "The Judge Rotenberg Center (JRC) in Canton, MA, uses cruel "aversive therapy" on children with autism, depression, and mental retardation. It's the only school in the US that allows painful shocks of children, sometimes tying them down for long sessions of shocks. 'Hot-saucing', extreme food deprivation, and other corporal punishments are routine and frequent." 

Finally, there is the story of 14-year-old black youth named Martin Lee Anderson who died at the hands of several guards in a boot camp in Florida.  There is a video showing the incident.  An all-white jury acquitted the guards.  

How many deaths will it take to get the attention of those with the power and influence to do something about this?  It is possible that the problem is ignored because most of these kids are minorities and/or from poor families?

Keywords: abuse, racial disparities, Randall Shelden, youth

Posted in Blog, Juvenile Justice

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