Posts Tagged ‘youth detention’

“At midnight on Oct. 1, 2018, New York’s Raise the Age law went into effect, ending the state’s practice of automatically charging young people as adults at age 16. It also required New York City to move all 16- and 17-year-olds out of the infamously brutal Rikers Island jail complex and into the Horizon juvenile detention center in the Bronx.

Mayor Bill de Blasio heralded the move as a significant victory. “Beginning today,” he said, “no one under 18 will go to Rikers Island. Kids will be treated like kids instead of adults.”

Yet from the start, that mission was subverted. When fights broke out the very first week among detainees, injuring correction officers, their union was adamant that they could only restore order by using the same level of force they were authorized to use at Rikers. Surveillance video of brawling adolescents was released to the media, and correction officers told reporters they feared for their lives. On Oct. 10, the state granted a waiver allowing guards to use OC pepper spray on youth. (That plan has since been delayed while city and state officials negotiate its use, which is prohibited in juvenile facilities.)

Raise the Age was intended to shield children from the horrors of the adult criminal justice system. Yet, New York’s implementation of the plan seems to have merely transported the culture of violence from Rikers Island to Horizon.

There are reasons for that. The law mandated that young people be removed from Rikers, but authorized the same agency—the city’s Department of Correction—to help run the adolescent detention centers where they were moved, alongside program staff from the Administration for Children’s Services (ACS). And because ACS could not hire enough “youth development specialists” by the Oct. 1 deadline, correction officers—whose horrific abuse of teenagers brought a federal lawsuit and consent decree to Rikers—are still guarding them in juvenile detention.

These correction officers and their union have painted the teens as dangerous, violent, and predatory criminals who can only be controlled by force. But the city itself seems to have bought into the logic that the adolescents from Rikers would bring with them a culture of violence too intense for ACS alone to handle.

To prepare for their arrival, the city relocated youth charged as juvenile delinquents to its Crossroads facility in Brooklyn, fearing the adolescents from Rikers would victimize them. It renovated Horizon to make it even more secure: reinforced cells, a larger control room, an arsenal of riot control gear, and plexiglass barriers in the cafeteria to keep youth from having contact with kitchen staff. New York City achieved getting the youth off Rikers, but in the process it has “Rikerized” Horizon.

These changes reflect a lack of faith in New York’s young people and the city’s ability to serve them. Teens are remarkably adept at living up to exactly what we expect of them. If we create an environment that anticipates violence, they will behave as expected. But research shows that if we treat them with love and respect, then young people—even the most traumatized, difficult, and challenging among them—will respond in kind.

I know that from my own experience running a mentoring program for court-involved youth in the South Bronx. But I’ve also seen a different approach to the same challenge playing out in the nation’s capital.

On the same day that New York’s Raise the Age law went into effect, the District of Columbia hit a deadline for removing youth charged as adults from the D.C. Correctional Treatment Facility. Prior to the transfer, they had been subject to the same conditions as the youth on Rikers. Correction officers were authorized to use brute force, OC pepper spray, mechanical restraints, and 23-hour lockdown as tools of control.

At the New Beginnings facility run by the Department of Youth Rehabilitation Services (DYRS), they were met by youth development specialists instead of corrections officers. These adolescents look no different than the youth coming from Rikers. They are also 16- and 17-year-olds and have been charged with serious and violent felony offenses. But since they arrived at New Beginnings, there have been no outbreaks of violence, no physical restraints, and no need for pepper spray. They sleep in their own housing unit, but are otherwise fully integrated with their peers during school, meals, and recreational time. I asked one of the staff members if the youth they call “Title 16” (after the statute that lets them be charged as adults) were different from their delinquency cases. “Nah,” he said, “they’re all just kids.””


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“Youth Leaves Jail To Work Out Fine,” The Globe and Mail. October 7, 1948. Page 02.

At the request of Major Alec MacMillan of the Salvation Army, 16-year-old Terry Smith of Sackville St. was released from Don Jail Tuesday night. Terry, convicted of ill-treating a kitten, was unable to pay a $50 fine, and was sentenced to 10 days in jail by Magistrate Thomas Elmore.

Major MacMillan said Terry was a ‘good boy,’ and would work to raise money to meet the $50 fine.
“Faces Sentence In Taxi Robbery,”

The Globe and Mail. October 7, 1948. Page 02.

David Cameron, 24, will be sentenced today by Magistrate Thomas Elmore after being convicted yesterday of robbing taxi driver John Kusian about two weeks ago. Kusian charged that Cameron had placed a butcher knife against his back and robbed him of $16.

Cameron faces sentence on four additional charges; Breaking into a service station on Fleet St., possession of an offensive weapon, attempted break-in of a second service station on Front St., and escape from Burwash Reformatory.

Cameron, 24 years old, escaped from reformatory on Sept. 9, and was said to have committed all the misdemeanors since the date. He pleaded guilty to all except the armed robbery charge.

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“Philanthropists did a pedagogic Jekyll and Hyde by hailing the family as the ideal place to raise children and at the same time creating the re-education home where children were to be re-educated outside the family, torn away from their parents and siblings.”

– Jeroen Dekker, The Will to Change the Child: Re-education Homes for Children at Risk in Nineteenth Century Western Europe. New York: Peter Lang, 2001. p.39

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“Destructive Boys To Get Strapping,” Toronto Star. July 30, 1938. Page 05.

Caused Damage at Western Ontario Fair Grounds

London, Ont., July 30. – Two 11-year-old boys, convicted of causing extensive damage to buildings in the Western Ontario Fairground buildings, were sent to the York Street Observation Home for a ‘sound’ strapping, under orders issued yesterday by Magistrate Donald B. Menzies in juvenile court.

Four boys were involved in the affair in which windows were smashed, telephone booths wrecked and showcases broken, but the other two were so young they could not be charged in any court.

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“Runaway Boy Recaptured,” Kingston Daily Standard. July 24, 1912. Page 01.

Kingston Lad Was Enjoying Drive With Livery Horse and Rig.
Ingersoll, July 24. – Bruce Ireland, a fifteen-year-old lad who four months ago escaped from the Industrial School at Mimico for the third time, was captured here by Constable Bearss. Last evening the lad was taken to Mimico by Mr. J. Morrison of the Industrial School. The lad, who was sentenced at Kingston, has evidently caused the school authorities considerable trouble. After reaching Ingersoll he hired a horse and buggy at a livery stable, and spent an hour or more driving about the town. Soon after returning to the livery stable he was taken into custody.

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“Truant Surrenders Having Seen Circus,” Toronto Globe. July 21, 1933. Page 10.

Wish Expressed to Return to Victoria Industrial School, Mimico

Kenneth Neely, 18-year-old inmate of Victoria Industrial School, Mimico, who has been missing for some days from that institution, yesterday walked into the Central Police Station at Detroit, and surrendered. To the officer in charge, young Neely, with some satisfaction, expressed his desire to return to the school, having explained how he had achieved an ambition of many years’ standing.

‘They let me out from the school to look for another lad who had escaped. While I was away I saw a poster advertising a big circus, the one thing I had longed to see for five years,’ he told the police. Saying he had gratified his ambition, he added: ‘And, say, it was just swell.’

Neely, who was serving a term for stealing a car at Niagara Falls, is being held pending the arrival of an officer from the school to bring him back.

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“What is the meaning of the amazing statistics which we gather
from reformatories? Out of 336 boys, for instance, in the Lyman
School, 110 were former peddlers on the street; 160 had been newsboys;
72 had been bootblacks, and 56 had been messengers. 

In the Parental School, another Massachusetts reformatory,
out of 336 boys, 89 had been newsboys, 52 peddlers, 22 bootblacks,
and 9 messengers; a number in total larger than the number of the
boys in the reformatory, because some of the boys had engaged in
more than one of the occupations. 

Is it the actual work? Does work lead to the reformatory?
It cannot be that. Every true advocate of child labor reform praises
good, honest, hard, tiring work as roundly as he denounces the toil
of those nine-year-old children who climb up on their dangerous
playthings in the cotton factories. 

No, it is not the hard, tiring work of the children that any child
labor reformer can contend against. It is the conditions under which
the work is done, which accompany the work, giving chance for
mischievous boyish tendencies to sprout into vicious tendencies. 

In the night messenger service the boys feel themselves above
the law. That is probably the service in which the most independence
has been cultivated. A little messenger boy walking along the

houses of ill fame, and kitchen bar-rooms. We asked him if he
was not afraid of the police. He pulled his cap off and showed
us his badge, saying: “De cops can’t touch us when we got dis
badge on.” And so it is the independence which gives them a chance
in the moments when they are not actively at work to cultivate the
vicious tendencies which lead to the reformatory. 

This independence is peculiar to the street trades. The mills
do not directly send people to the reformatories. They repress the
children, repress all the mischief, or tire it out so that there is not
much chance in the idle moments, while the child is working eleven
hours a day in the mill, for him to get on the path to the reformatory.
Indirectly, however, in Massachusetts at least, we find that the mills
do lead to the reformatory by ruining many boys at an early age,
making doffers of them when they have no education, no industrial
training. Without ability to progress to more skillful work in the
mill, boys are thrown upon the streets at sixteen or seventeen when
they become too old to doff. In the city of Lawrence, large numbers
of these boys are thrown upon the streets and become part of the
street gang. 

It is not the work of selling the newspaper or of carrying the
telegram that does the harm. Many boys-probably the larger
number-in the newspaper service at any rate, are benefited by the
actual work. A boy whom I met recently is one of the justices of
the Newsboys’ Court in Boston, just established. The judges are
the newsboys themselves. They act under the direction of the Juvenile
Court and sentence the boys themselves: self-government.
And this bright, fifteen-year-old boy, has been cared for in good
home surroundings and the hard work has benefited him. He is a
keen, intelligent lad. He is doing all he can to keep the younger
boys and his friends from going into the night messenger service,
and to get them work under good conditions. His one ambition
is to be a forester, and to get away from the city. 

And so it seems to me that the point of attack is not to stop
the work, but to regulate it, to put it under good conditions; and
where good conditions cannot be had, as in the late hours of the
night messenger service or the late work of street trading, then, as
the final resort, prohibit the work. 

There is another phase of the question of street trades and

reformatories – the question whether the reformatory is the proper
cure or remedy for the wayward street trader. Of course, in the
most depraved cases in the night messenger service, the boy must
land in the reformatory or in jail, thanks to the sad condition of
society which has allowed these evils to go on. But for the minor
offences, for violation of the license regulations, failing to wear the
badge displayed, and all those things, it would be foolish to send
the minor offender into the reformatory with the older and more
depraved offender. In this connection, the Newsboys’ Court that
has been established in Boston offers a most admirable suggestion.
One of the justices is a lawyer who has always taken a great interest
in children. The other two are newsboys. They manage their
court in a rather informal manner; but they judge each case fairly
after hearing the arguments. They take time to consider the
merits of the boy’s case, and understand better than do a great
many judges the difficulties with which the boy has had to contend,
and can suggest the proper punishment.”

– Richard K. Conant, “STREET TRADES AND REFORMATORIES.” The ANNALS of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, Vol. 38, Issue 1, 1911.

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