Rahway, New Jersey - When Lawrence Bell, an orphan living in an abandoned house in Camden, New Jersey, went to prison, he was 14-years-old. Barely literate and weighing no more than 90 pounds, he had been pressured by three Camden police detectives into signing a confession for a murder and rape he insisted at his trial he did not commit, although admitted he was in the car of the man who dragged a young mother into the bushes where she was sexually assaulted and strangled to death. It made no difference. The confession condemned him, although there was no scientific evidence or any independent witnesses tying him to the crime. He would not be eligible to go before a parole board for 56 years. It was a de facto life sentence.
As states across the U.S. took steps to stop the spread of COVID-19 — closing schools and workplaces, canceling events and shifting to supporting children in their homes and communities — one group of young people is being left behind: the nearly 50,000 youth locked up across the country. Releasing young people held in detention centers was the focus of a “Free Our Youth” car caravan in front of the Philadelphia Juvenile Justice Services Center (PJJSC) on May 18. At least two children have tested positive for COVID-19 while in juvenile jail, but the number of incarcerated youth has actually increased from 105 on May 7 to 125 on May 18. An additional 21 young people under 18 are currently in pretrial incarceration in the city’s adult jails, being held indefinitely because the courts are closed due to COVID-19.
By Carimah Townes for Think Progress - As Los Angeles County reforms the largest juvenile justice system in the country, a new, damning video shows that the culture of abuse within that system remains intact. In surveillance footage leaked by whistleblowers inside a detention center, four probation officers are seen pummeling a teenager in a holding room. The silent video, recorded at L.A. County’s Barry J. Nidorf Juvenile Hall in Sylmar, shows the teen exchanging words with several officers standing in the room. All of a sudden, three officers lunge in his direction, slam him on a concrete cot, pile on top of him, and beat him.
By Marcus Harrison Green for Yes! Magazine - After a three-year crusade of protest, agitation, and organizing, a Seattle City Council meeting on September 21 brought a major victory to a diverse coalition of youth-prison abolitionists and anti-racist organizers. In a 9-0 unanimous decision, Seattle’s City Council passed a resolution that fully endorses the goal of zero-percent detention of youth, and called for the city to develop policies eliminating the necessity of their imprisonment. While Council Member Mike O’Brien introduced the resolution in a committee meeting last week, it originated with three organizations that advocate for the abolition of juvenile incarceration: Ending the Prison Industrial Complex (EPIC), Youth Undoing Institutional Racism (YUIR), and the Seattle branch of the anti-racist organization European Dissent. “We wouldn’t be here today if it wasn’t for the youth activists,” said Council Member Nick Licata prior to the resolution’s passage. “They’re the ones who created the huge pressure on the county and also the city.”
Every day, in jails and prisons across the United States, young people under the age of 18 are held in solitary confinement. They spend 22 or more hours each day alone, usually in a small cell behind a solid steel door, completely isolated both physically and socially, often for days, weeks, or even months on end. Sometimes there is a window allowing natural light to enter or a view of the world outside cell walls. Sometimes it is possible to communicate by yelling to other inmates, with voices distorted, reverberating against concrete and metal. Occasionally, they get a book or bible, and if they are lucky, study materials. But inside this cramped space, few contours distinguish one hour, one day, week, or one month, from the next. A new report from the ACLU and Human Rights Watch, “Growing Up Locked Down: Youth in Solitary Confinement in Jails and Prisons Across the United States,” is based on interviews and correspondence with more than 125 young people in 19 states who spent time in solitary confinement while under age 18 as well as with jail and/or prison officials in 10 states.