Up until last night (April 7th), in the state of New York, a child as young as 7 could be charged with a delinquency, and any child by the age of 16 could be charged and tried as an adult. The debate launched the Raise the Age Act, which luckily passed last night. Under the act, with a few case by case stipulations, children will no longer be tried as adults at the ages of 16 and 17; instead, New York, like 48 other states (North Carolina is still excluded), will try 18 year olds and older as adults.
Although I am relieved to hear that the Raise the Age Act passed and will protect more children from being charged as a criminal, I am concerned about how the act will impact Juvenile Detention Centers. Before learning of the act’s passing, I, along with my colleagues and professor, had the opportunity to visit Monroe County’s Juvenile Detention Center. The experience was numbing, nauseating, and eye opening. Serving as a detention center for charged youth, or in some cases, youth that are in need of high security, such as those who have fallen victim to human trafficking, the system and physical site is far from ideal. Now with the passing of the Raise the Age Act, more children, and those of older ages are expected to influx these detention centers.
As the employee continued to teach us about the center, my colleagues and I soon learned of the social injustices that are apparent for both parties, the detained, and the employees watching over the detained students. For the children, the most evident issue is the lack of freedom and living conditions. The employee described how the physical building space does not currently include a kitchen, recreational room, and a formal classroom, spaces that every detained child should have access to. With the new passing of the Raise the Age Act, the center needs to learn about the expected additional intake of children and available funds, before proceeding with necessary renovations.
The second injustice is from the employee perspective of working conditions. In addition to state mandated regulations, the detention center must abide by further standards when processing and detaining each child. Although the regulations are fully followed, some of the additional standards are met with difficulty due to logistical operations. Frustration and fear also seem to be daily struggles for the employees as they face high turn over rates for their entry-level jobs, as well as continual threats of being falsely accused by the detained children for maltreatment. That, in combination with intensive monitoring from a third party justice system, makes the working conditions at the detention center unfavorable.
From the extensive constraints and endless frustrations, it is evident that the detention system as a whole, needs significant improvement. Despite the limitations placed on it, Monroe County’s Juvenile Detention Center, as an individual center however, seems to be improving as evident in its 36% reduction in detainees from 2013-2016 (Monroe, 2016). Why, though, as a country, are we still seeing this pipeline to detention or worse off, prison amongst children?
As a concerned civilian and future educator, I have a few other concluding thoughts and questions. I wonder, why are there not more supports and protections available to the staff that works with these detained students? How would the detention center teachers navigate the excessive constraints placed on this learning environment? Another major concern of mine is after the fact, after a child is released. The psychological impact that being detained must incur is unimaginable. To change this outcome from the better, what re-integration programs are readily available for the students who make their way back into their communities and schools? How are they made accessible to these individuals and how effective are they?
For more information, please check out the following link:
Monroe County (2016). Monroe County’s Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative (JDAI): 2016 Year End Report. Monroe County, NY.