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Juvenile Prison: $5 Billion for Child Abuse

prison barsEvery juvenile prison must be immediately closed and all of its prisoners freed.

Oh. Oh. Oh! That sounds too drastic and simplistic and revolutionary.

We talk about being reformist or revolutionary as if it were a personality choice. Yet we also talk about being scientific, about being reality-based. Unlike reactionary climate-denying racist creationists we claim, most of us, to recognize such phenomena as climate change and to act on them (leave aside for the moment whether we’re really acting appropriately on that one).

The science has long been crystal clear: juvenile prisons are worse than nothing.  They increase rather than reducing crime.  In our failure to abolish them, we — and not the children we torture — are the seemingly hopeless recidivists.

We spend in the United States $88,000 on average per year to lock a child up, compared to $10,652 to educate a child.  We have over 66,000 children locked up, 87% of them boys, and our police arrest 2 million juveniles each year.

A recent longitudinal study of 35,000 young offenders found that those who are locked up are over twice as likely to be locked up as adults compared to those who committed similar offenses and came from similar backgrounds but were given an alternative penalty or were just not arrested.  In some states over 80% of those locked up as kids will be convicted of later crimes.  Studies have found that, more than family difficulties or gang membership or any other factor, the best predictor of criminality is whether someone has been imprisoned in what amount to factories for crime.

Well, but then, isn’t the best predictor the initial commission of a crime that led to the initial incarceration? Actually, no.  Eighty to 90% of teenagers in the United States commit illegal acts that could land them behind bars.  Most of those put behind bars are put there for minor, nonviolent offenses. A third of all teenagers have even committed a somewhat serious crime, but most are never arrested, much less imprisoned.  Almost all grow out of it.

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Jane Hamsher

Jane Hamsher

Jane is the founder of Firedoglake.com. Her work has also appeared on the Huffington Post, Alternet and The American Prospect. She’s the author of the best selling book Killer Instinct and has produced such films Natural Born Killers and Permanent Midnight. She lives in Washington DC.
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