These days in the U.S.A., often children as young as 13 years old can be tried as adults and incarcerated in an adult prison. Even though these children are still not old enough to drink, vote or drive, they can still be tried and convicted as adults.
In the video above, LaShon Beamon of the Department of Youth Rehabilitation Services says: “When you hold a youth accountable in the same manner and fashion in which you hold an adult, it's just not right and it's not fair.”
A further interview is with Michael Kemp, who was jailed for the first time at 12-years-old. He was incarcerated in Oak Hill Juvenile Correctional Faciity outside Washington D.C.
“Oak Hill it wasn't designed to rehabilitate you, it was designed for punishment. You know having barbed wires around the gate and it's just preparing you for more criminal-type lifestyle,” he says.
And the result was, he got into trouble again and at 17 was charged as an adult with armed robbery and sent to an adult jail.
“You never know what the adults might do to you, and you're just thinking man what's going to happen to me,” says Kemp. He also said that for a kid, being in an adult prison is a constant struggle to survive.
He states: “They know how it is when you come off the bus and know that you're far away from home, so they pull you in but in reality they're trying to get a favor out of you, a sexual act, and then you get victimized or raped and then you become someone's…person.”
Michael was fortunate and did not become the victim of sexual abuse, but many children and teenagers are not so lucky.
Statistics from the Bureau of Justice reveal that 1-in-5 victims of sexual abuse and violence in prisons and jails are under the age of 18. The statistics show that youngsters in adult jails are 36 times more likely to commit suicide than in the juvenile detention system.
They also show that on any given day in the U.S.A. 10,000 children are being held in adult prisons or jails, and most have never been convicted of a crime.
Bart Lubow of the Annie Casey Foundation says: “They are less capable of understanding the consequences of their behavior, their development is incomplete,”
While the Supreme Court in 2005 stopped the death penalty for juveniles, today the U.S.A. is the only country in which kids are sentenced to life without parole.
“It was viewed as a substitute to the ultimate penalty,” says Lubow.
Lubow says, “This is a peculiarly American phenomenon where we tend to believe, the harsher the penalties, the greater the public safety pay-off.” They should be rehabilitated instead.
Washington DC's newly-opened "New Beginnings" is focusing on just that. The system is more like a classroom than a juvenile detention facility and is based on rewards, rather than punishment.
Experts have said that this system is much more effective in rehabilitating youth and making them productive members of society.
The center is one of few places in the U.S.A. where children are given a second chance, and in many jails throughout the country children remain incarcerated with no hope for the future.