The Huffington Post published this article on the growing number of teenagers being placed in correctional facilities with adults and the troublesome maltreatment that follows. Unfortunately, due to the internal biases that compel people to see these children as criminals before teenagers, some may question why this matters.

1. Teenagers have not fully developed or matured mentally, physically or socially.

Teenagers are more vulnerable to negative forms of learning such as addiction because they are so easily influenced, compared to adults. As Richard Knox phrases it:

Nature made the brains of children and adolescents excitable. Their brain chemistry is tuned to be responsive to everything in their environment. After all, that’s what makes kids learn so easily.

This means that in certain high-pressure situations or scenarios that cause a person to feel as if their life might be in danger, teenagers are predisposed to going into a panic where an adult might be able to rationalize that the sooner they cooperate, the sooner it’ll be over. But some of the correctional officers are simply not trained to handle juvenile prisoners.

Amy Fettig, senior counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union’s National Prison Project, said, “The adult system is not designed in any way, shape or form to treat children, to rehabilitate children, or to recognize that children are different than adults.”

In several of the videos attached in the Huffington Post piece, you can see the correctional officers’ handling of the teenage inmates is largely derived from a formula of force and verbal abuse. In one instance the girl, referred to as Jamie, is being extracted from her cell and as they are forcibly tying her down to her mattress in what is called a “five point restraint” she is complaining that she can’t breathe and is coughing violently. In the midst of her panic due to the trauma of the officers and the physical trauma of the leftover chemical gas in the air, her spit from coughing hits an officer. She is later given a code of misconduct for spitting in the officer’s face.

2. Blacks and Latinos are disproportionately affected by the juvenile prison system.

According to the NAACP, “five times as many whites are using drugs as African Americans, yet African Americans are sent to prison for drug offenses at 10 times the rate of whites.” Black and latino kids receive more severe sentences for similar crimes committed by whites, and thus make up a large portion of the juvenile prison population.

Following Kalief Browder’s death, Kentucky Senator Rand Paul observed that “white kids don’t get the same justice” —and when it comes to sentencing practices, this is empirically true. One national study found that in a single year, almost 10 times more black kids were committed to adult facilities than white kids. Of 257 children prosecuted as adults in Chicago between 2010 and 2012, only one was white.


The rise in children being tried as adults and those being admitted to adult correctional facilities is alarming due to the lack of care afforded to them upon arriving there. Prison staff and officials often assume these kids have already ascertained a strong sense of self-sustainability that many do not experience or develop until their mid-twenties. As a result, the inability of these children to comply with these standards is commonly viewed as insubordination, misconduct or rebellion and often punished as such with measures like solitary confinement.

Black kids are being served extensive sentences for drug offenses, much more severe than those of whites, and are admitted into prisons with adults serving time for much more violent offenses. Because of this, their safety is often far from guaranteed. Some of the juvenile prisoners report trying to just “stay alive” due to how prone they are to fights, violence and sexual assault.


We, myself included, don’t talk about this enough because most of the time the people with the cameras are the prison staff, officials, or maybe even reporters, but certainly not the inmates. This is significant because much of that troubling footage can be protected by the prison’s guidelines or even the law.

As a result, videos don’t go viral instantaneously, or at all, like they do on the outside. So it’s easy to assume that there’s no story and there’s no truth. This doesn’t even take into account the fact that people just don’t seem to care about these kids because “they’re criminals.” When so many are wrongfully held and wrongfully accused and sent to prison due to negligence and a lack of motivation for seeking out true accounts and the gaps in criminal reports, I’m left to wonder: who will fight for them?

A lot of us don’t know anything about this, and don’t care to know, but let’s educate ourselves, our friends and our kids. We might be our only hope. For more information, click here to read the full Huffington Post article on life as a kid in prison.

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