Nonviolent, young inmates leave state's justice system
physically and emotionally scarred. Alternatives are needed.
By Rick McDevitt
There has been a lot of
discussion about the need to expand the construction of
juvenile prisons. But building more prisons is not the
answer. The current juvenile justice system is not reforming
children; it is actually hurting them. Last year, within
the Georgia Department of Juvenile Justice, there were
4,600 inmate-on-inmate beatings and almost 600 staff-on-inmate
beatings. Less than 10 percent of all juvenile crime is
violent, yet large numbers of nonviolent offenders are
in cells with murderers and rapists.
Recent data shows that black children are
six times as likely to be jailed than white children for
the same crime and with similar offense backgrounds. White
children are arrested three times more often than black
children in Georgia. But, as the process moves forward,
more black kids wind up in jail. Currently, 70percent
of the children in our McDevitt youth prisons and detention
facilities are black, Yet, crimes committed by African-American
youth are not more serious. In fact 75 percent of our
children in j ad are there for nonviolent property-related
A sordid track record in Georgia
The state is building more prisons to provide jobs for
local residents - not rehabilitation for youth. Jailed
youths are not being rehabilitated. They are being raped
and abused; they are attempting suicide, receiving little
or no medical attention, suffering mentally, receiving
inadequate education and insufficient rehabilitative services.
In fact, it costs approximately $40,000 a year to lock
up one child in jail.
The Georgia Alliance for Children in advertisements, to
focus attention on abuses in the states juvenile justice
1997, a U.S. Department of Justice investigation found
that the state juvenile justice facilities were "grossly
substandard," "egregious" and "unconstitutional."
According to the report, Georgia's juvenile facilities
lack enough space to separate younger, more vulnerable
youths from older, potentially more predatory youths.
In one incident, a child held for violation of probation
was housed with three youths accused of armed robbery
and aggravated assault and was beaten and sexually assaulted
without intervention from the staff.
As a result of low staffing levels, a male staff member
was able to sexually assault a 14-year-old female resident
after persuading the only other staff member on the shift
to take a nap.
We must stop hurting our children.
youths return to our communities much worse for their
experience. This happens because almost nothing is spent
on community-based programs, the smart alternative to
the current juvenile justice system. These community-based
programs would get to children's lives sooner, rather