This is profoundly tragic. This kid was in state prison for shoplifting and drug use - that's a real problem, given who the Arizona Department of Juvenile Corrections touts as their main customers: "the worst of the worst young criminals in the state." I have yet to see any of the real bad guys get abused in prison, but we shrug off reports like this one as if they're freak accidents and only the criminals we love to hate get hurt badly. Thank god the judge let the kid go home after all this.
Judges should be ordered to read aloud at sentencing the risks they expose each child to if they plan to lock them up - beginning with the one in every ten kids who will be sexually abused the first year they're in the system. Then when a child is raped or suicides in custody, the judge should be held civilly liable for the risk they knowingly, explicitly subjected them to as part of their punishment.
The judiciary can't possibly think that juvenile detention centers are really therapeutic rehabilitation facilites to send children to - which is why the AzDJC calls places like Adobe Mountain "Safe Schools", instead of what they are: child prisons. It makes the prospect of committing a child there more palatable to the well-intended. They're really prison prep schools, though, and come complete with gangs, drugs, and sexual abuse - as well as child-size prison uniforms, stark cells, handcuffs and shackles.
We just pack a bunch of naive, emotionally impaired kids in with a few real disturbed thugs to justify keeping those places open at all, then indoctrinate them into a culture that leaves them few options for roles and self-image to choose from outside of the criminal justice paradigm populated by distinctly-defined "criminals", "victims", and cops.
Most children who have been criminalized and institutionalized are also survivors of abuse already, and grow up with unresolved trauma issues that lead to self-medicating with drugs - and then prison again. It is not uncommon for their involvement with the juvenile justice system to be the greater source of trauma than their adolescent participation in crime was, though.
This kid, for one, was hardly safe - and the truth is that when this kind of thing happens it hardly ever hits the press, so the public is lulled into thinking that violence in the Arizona Department of Juvenile Corrections is not the rule. Prisons RUN on violence and the threat of it to coerce compliance, though, people. They are authoritarian police institutions - do not send children there and expect them to come out healthy. If they do, they are the exception to the rule, not the other way around.
Sentencing practices should be closely monitored for all critical outcomes - not only recidivism, but suicide, homicide, further victimization, sexual exploitation: once we start treating kids like criminals, we seem to stop caring about all other aspects of their lives but whether or not they remain criminals...nurturing little but prison culture, stigmatization, and a negative self-image in the process.
Don't believe them for a minute when they tell you they have to be like that because of the serious pathology of their youth - the worst are still out getting away with it. The kids the AzDJC really have the most of are the ones who got caught and were too poor to swing their own attorneys - a good many of whom were low-level, non-violent drug offenders who just kept relapsing on probation, and everyone knows that a bunch of the kids we throw into juvie should have gone through mental health treatment, not the criminal justice system - and would have but for the lack of funds for public mental health services in this state. Those kids couldn't get into a residential treatment program unless they were first criminalized (that must be a violation of the Olmstead Act) - and then they ended up in prison instead.
So, this article is for those who still believe that "criminals deserve what they get in prison." Folks who really believe that do these kids the greatest harm through their deliberate indifference to their suffering - as do the bureaucrats who do damage control by distorting the gravity of their plight behind the best of bars. When the AzDJC faced the threat of privatization last year, they and the officers' unions chose to appeal not to our collective sense of responsibility to help these kids, but to our fear of them instead, arguing that private companies can't safely handle the highly dangerous young criminals they have in their care. Public safety would be compromised, they argued - never mind how it would affect the welfare of our criminalized youth. I even heard one guy refer to the escape at Kingman (as if the lack of state oversight had no bearing on the outcome) - suggesting that young state prisoners would be busting out and killing everyone if they could.
But the murderers and sociopaths they have in custody aren't the ones getting screwed - it's the kids like this one below and Presley Austin who represent the incoming tide...AzDJC Director Mike Branham should be the one out in front on this telling the public how bad these places are for such youth, that there's no way to make the prison system "work" for most of them, and that we should be directing our resources into other kinds of services for them before they hit the child prisons.
The problem with committing our children so readily to the care of the state, is that it tends to place its own survival over the best interests of the people its machinery was constructed to serve in the first place. Mike could have embraced an abolitionist vision and steered the entire agency towards dissolution, redirecting resources back to their prisoners' home communities to decide how best to teach their youth the nuances of justice, and to cultivate a better sense of social responsibility than our current reliance on these archaic institutions has done thus far.
Thank you, Judge Aragón, for exercising compassion and taking responsibility for correcting your orders. Someone should fire that prosecutor - especially if he's the one who coaxed the judge to send that kid up river in the first place. He was some kind of dangerous, alright...
Why can't these places keep their prisoners safe?
Release is ordered for boy, 16, after attacks in custody
Kim Smith / Arizona Daily Star
March 5, 2011
A Pima County Juvenile Court judge who sent a 16-year-old boy to the Catalina Mountain School last December ordered his release Friday after learning the boy may have been repeatedly stabbed with a pen one week last month and sodomized the next.
Judge Gus Aragón ordered the boy placed on probation until his 18th birthday in March 2012, said Assistant Pima County Public Defender Terri Pones.
"I am ecstatic," Pones said following the hearing.
According to court documents filed by Pones, Aragón sent the boy to the Arizona Department of Juvenile Corrections in December after the drug-addicted boy repeatedly violated probation.
The boy had been adjudicated delinquent for stealing candy and soft drinks from a Marana park concession stand, Pones said. He also has drug convictions.
On Feb. 3, a teacher overheard the teenager's roommate tell another roommate the teenager had been stabbed in the throat, arm and rib cage with a pen two days prior, according to the documents. The teenager told his mother and corrections officials he was afraid of retaliation and he'd overheard other teens talking about assaulting him again.
The boy and his mother were assured he would be housed by himself, staff would supervise him on a more individual basis and someone would always be "shadowing him," Pones said in the court documents.
On Feb. 15, the teenager was taken to Northwest Medical Center after being sodomized by a roommate and forced to perform a sexual act, Pones said.
After being discharged from the hospital, the teenager was sent to Adobe Mountain in Phoenix for his safety, making it difficult for his family to visit him, Pones said.
Because of the assault, Pones said the boy's "treatment needs have now far exceeded" those he had in December and he ought to be released so he can receive treatment in the community.
David Berkman, Pima County's chief criminal deputy attorney, said prosecutors asked Aragón to schedule a hearing on the allegations once the corrections department completed its investigation, but he declined to do so.
"It appears he accepted what they said," Berkman said.
Prosecutors objected to the boy's release, Berkman said, and may ask for another hearing on the matter, depending upon the results of the investigation.
Laura E. Dillingham, director of communications for the Arizona Department of Juvenile Corrections, said the investigation is ongoing.
Contact reporter Kim Smith at 573-4241 or firstname.lastname@example.org