We don’t burn children anymore. We send them to prison.

 

Monday, November 21, 2011, must have been Juvenile (In)Justice Day. Juvenile (In)Justice appeared everywhere, in the news.

In Kashmir, there’s juvenile (in)justice. Children charged with throwing stones are treated, formally, as terrorists. They can be jailed, caged, for up to two years without a trial. Children are placed in adult prisons, while awaiting trial and when convicted. And they will be convicted. Yes, there are laws that protect juveniles. But those laws don’t matter in a state of emergency. Children don’t matter in a state of emergency. They aren’t `juveniles’, and they aren’t `youth’. They’re children.

The state of emergency, the so-called public safety crisis, is always an alibi. States abuse children. In Kashmir, there’s juvenile (in)Justice, and the excuse is crisis. In Malawi, where there is no state of emergency, juvenile (in)justice is simply business as usual, the price of maintaining order. The law says children under 18 deserve special treatment and protection. In fact, children are tried in adult courts and then sent to overcrowded adult prisons. That is the rule of law… everywhere. Take children and maximize their vulnerability.

And then lie about it.

That’s what the United Kingdom has been doing, systematically lying about the abuse of children of asylum seekers and, worse, of asylum seeker children. Sexual abuse. Other forms of physical abuse. Psychological abuse. Spiritual abuse. Of course, there are no laws that address the crimes of breaking the spirit of a child. What’s going on in the United Kingdom is not `merely’ officials lying. It’s Official Lying. The State defines democracy by lying and then chants, “This is what democracy looks like.”

The ministers lie, the professors lie, the television lies, the priests lie. . . .
These lies mean that the country wants to die.”

And then finally, in the name of security, stability, sovereignty, and, of course, peace, the State, in this instance the United States, proposes a budget that would gorge on prisons and gouge youth of resources, of hope, of life itself. Again, the youth, the juveniles, they’re children.

Meanwhile, cities, like New York, work on plans to increase the use of solitary confinement. It’s called “punitive segregation”, and it preys in particular on `juveniles’, those prisoners living with mental disabilities, and those awaiting trial. Maximize vulnerability. It’s a kind of efficiency that brings education, mental health care, and justice itself to a screaming, screeching halt.

None of this is new or news, of course. The abuse of children in prison is systemic. In the United States, for example, photographer Richard Ross has been exposing juvenile (in)justice for years, and it’s everywhere. It’s the fabric of national democracy. It’s today’s version of burning children, as Robert Bly wrote, some four decades ago:

“But if one of those children came near that we have set on fire,
came toward you like a gray barn, walking,
you would howl like a wind tunnel in a hurricane,
you would tear at your shirt with blue hands,
you would drive over your own child’s wagon trying to back up,
the pupils of your eyes would go wild—

If a child came by burning, you would dance on a lawn,
trying to leap into the air, digging into your cheeks,
you would ram your head against the wall of your bedroom
like a bull penned too long in his moody pen—
If one of those children came toward me with both hands
in the air, fire rising along both elbows,
I would suddenly go back to my animal brain,
I would drop on all fours, screaming,
my vocal chords would turn blue, so would yours,
it would be two days before I could play with my own children again.”

The news Monday was this. We don’t burn children anymore. We send them to prison.

 

(Image Credit: Open Democracy)

 

The priceless gift of infinite standards

Amy Goodman is upset at double standards, specifically two standards of detention.

Scott Roeder is in jail for having killed Dr. George Tiller. While in jail, Roeder has just about unlimited access to the press, to visits, to the internet, to phone calls. The conditions of his incarceration in and of themselves are not the problem. The problem is all the others held incommunicado. Fahad Hasmi, for example, or Andrew Stepanian: “Hashmi is a U.S. citizen who grew up in Queens, N.Y., and went to Brooklyn College. He went to graduate school in Britain and was arrested there in 2006 for allegedly allowing an acquaintance to stay with him for two weeks. That acquaintance, Junaid Babar, allegedly kept at Hashmi’s apartment a bag containing ponchos and socks, which Babar later delivered to an al-Qaida operative. Babar was arrested and agreed to cooperate with the authorities in exchange for leniency….Fahad Hashmi was extradited to New York, where he has been held in pre-trial detention for more than two years. His brother Faisal described the conditions: “He is kept in solitary confinement for two straight years, 23- to 24-hours lockdown. … Within his own cell, he’s restricted in the movements he’s allowed to do. He’s not allowed to talk out loud within his own cell….He has Special Administrative Measures (SAMs) … against him.” Hashmi cannot contact the media, and even his lawyers have to be extremely cautious when discussing his case, for fear of imprisonment themselves”

Animal rights and environment activists are treated to the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s newest toy, “communications management units”, or CMUs. According to Stepanian, the CMU is “”a prison within the actual prison. … The unit doesn’t have normal telephone communication to your family … normal visits are denied … you have to make an appointment to make one phone call a week, and that needs to be done with the oversight of … a live monitor.” 70% Muslim prisoners, CMUs are commonly referred to as Little Guantanamo. Amy Goodman thinks this situation is wrong: “Nonviolent activists like Stepanian, and Muslims like Hashmi, secretly and dubiously charged, are held in draconian conditions, while Roeder trumpets from jail the extreme anti-abortion movement’s decades-long campaign of intimidation, vandalism, arson and murder.”

Surely, having two standards is better than having one. Surely that suggests wealth, just as having two cars or two houses. The U.S. has two standards not because it is racist or any other supposedly bad thing. It’s wealthy and can afford them. Everyone else is just jealous, that’s all.

Want to hear about three standards? There’s a standard for prisoners, a standard for women of color, and a standard for mothers: “Last November, Venita’s baby was getting ready to enter the world, but Venita couldn’t move. While she was going into contractions, her ankles were shackled, her hands cuffed, and her waist tied. For extra assurance, her hands were further restrained with a black box. Just following procedure, the officer said as he escorted her to the birthing room. The pain and joy of child birth may be the most intense experience a woman will ever have. For incarcerated pregnant women in New York, however, they’re prisoners first and mothers second”. Not quite. Prisoners first, women of color second, mothers third. America, a marketplace of standards.

Across the United States, juvenile justice programs, cultural programs, educational programs, caring programs, are being cut. Special transitional houses for girls, for example. Most of the girls are African American, Latina, and Native American. The programs work, the reforms work. And so they shall be cut. How many standards does that make. America, a shopping mall, a mega-mall, of standards.

Want more standards? How about prisoner and disabled? Howard Hyde, for example. “Terrified shrieks and the harsh crackle of electrical current filled a courtroom on Friday as surveillance video of the tasering of a paranoid schizophrenic was shown at an inquiry into his death. The video shows Howard Hyde regaining his feet, clad only in the shorts in which he was arrested. Momentarily at bay, facing three officers in the booking room of Halifax police headquarters, he throws himself over a waist-high counter and vanishes into a hallway. The audio recording continues and captures what sounds like another application of the taser. The Dartmouth man stopped breathing in that hallway and had to be revived. He died 30 hours later after a struggle with guards at a local jail.” Disabled prisoners generally have a hard time. If the disability is mental health … well, that’s a whole other standard. At least it’s Canada, and not the U.S. That’s a relief.

Maybe it’s not wealthy countries that can afford the extravagances of multiple, infinite and proliferating standards of detention. Maybe it’s countries with greater and growing wealth gaps, greater and growing chasms and higher and harder barricades between the wealthy and the poor. And each new standard? A gift, and especially a gift to women and girls of color across the land. You really can’t put a price on that now, can you?

(Photo Credit: Librado Romero / The New York Times)