Center for Media Justice home of the Media Action Grassroots Network

Captured by the Clueless

Cross-posted from Huffington Post.

James Bell, Founder and Executive Director of the W. Haywood Burns Institute.

Last week, the Bureau of Justice Statistics released a report that revealed about 12 percent of youths nationwide held in state-run, privately run or local facilities reported some type of sexual victimization including forced sexual activity with other youth and staff. Staff sexual misconduct was higher in state-run facilities.

It was the first report of its kind by the Justice Department, and the prevalence of sexual abuse by staff, particularly female workers, shocked even advocates. At our offices, we drew a deep breath and acknowledged the report as an addition to a growing list of reminders that incarcerating youth – the majority of whom are locked up for nonviolent offenses – is expensive, unproductive and harmful.

Every day, youth across the country who are incarcerated find themselves facing harms ranging from mental, emotional, physical and sexual abuse, to a lack of nutritious food and basic necessities including clean undergarments and adequate bathing supplies, and a lack of education and future opportunities. The majority are denied their liberty for minor offenses, and are placed in the mercy of a system that has been proven broken and in need of a serious and immediate overhaul.

Groups across the country work daily to protect and defend the rights of youth already incarcerated. We work to ensure youth will not be unjustly detained in the first place. As we look to persuade the public and the legislature to act upon the urgency we feel to transform the system, I refer to reports of some of the most egregious harms inflicted upon youth in the custody of the juvenile justice system.

Sadly, sometimes the most heinous incidents are the best aid in reminding us of how much needs to be done. Any of these children could have been yours, in some tragic twist of fate.

In 2009, the U.S. Department of Justice released a report graphically documenting the persistent brutality and routine neglect of youth of color with mental health. The report summarized the results of a two-year investigation and highlighted abuse including a 300-pound guard forcing a girl to the ground so violently (she had threatened to urinate on the floor) that the girl suffered a concussion. Another girl with mental health issues was placed in isolation for three months without treatment. She apparently deteriorated in the process, never changed out of her pajamas, and was forcibly restrained at least 15 times.

In 2008, The New York Times reported that the Louisiana state legislature voted to close the Jetson Center, a large prison-style facility near Baton Rouge plagued by fights and reports of sexual violence. A young man reported being locked in a cell for about seven weeks: “This is where the guards beat, kick, stomp and punch you. I was beaten so badly in there in there by a guard that he broke my eardrum. The sex in there is horrible. The female guards, and even some male guards, were having sex with the kids….And there were rapes, but they weren’t reported very often. If a kid was raped on a guard’s watch, the guard would get fired and the other guards were going to make sure the kid paid for telling.”

In 2007, reporters in Texas found that more than 750 juvenile detainees across the state had alleged sexual abuse by staff over the previous six years. Officials in Austin ignored what they heard, and in rare cases where staff were fired and their cases referred to local prosecutors, the prosecutors typically refused to act. “Not one employee of the Texas Youth Commission during that six-year period was sent to prison for raping the children in his or her care,” according to the New York Review of Books.

In 2006, Martin Lee Anderson didn’t make it past his first day at the Bay County Juvenile Boot Camp before he was abused to death. After “drill instructors” at this youth boot camp facility forced him do a fitness run with a 20-minute confrontation, Martin collapsed and died as a result of complications from a sickle cell trait.

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Professor Simon Johnson coined the phrase “intellectual capture” in reference to the nation’s kneeling at the altar of the gods of Wall Street. In essence, we are “intellectually captured” by the notion that whatever is good for Wall Street is good for America. Johnson goes on to posit that this intellectual capture is so powerful that it prevents the public and powerful politicians from exercising common sense and challenging basic assumptions.

This recent report, and this brief look at an ever-growing list of abuses, demonstrates clearly that our notions of crime and punishment for young people have us intellectually captured and clueless. Society at large, as well as the opinion shapers, the elites and those who wield power seem to be afraid to say what we all know to be true. Using cells to change the behaviors of teenagers is ineffective, expensive and more likely to increase crime.

Two-thirds of youth in detention are incarcerated for nonviolent offenses. What about incarceration only for those who pose a proven public safety risk? What about keeping nonviolent youth and those with minor offenses in community-based programs that involves therapy and engages their families? What about rehabilitation? Employing these methods has been shown to reduce crime, and the likelihood of abuse, and save money.

These ideas should no longer be novel or untried. San Francisco’s District Attorney Kamala Harris has it right. In her new book Smart on Crime she invites us to get a clue about being, well, smart on crime. She observes that two thirds of inmates return in two years. The numbers are similar for youth as well. By comparison, two decades ago, Missouri replaced its guards with counselors and its cells with bunk beds. The new model focused on changing behavior through therapy rather than physical restraints. Today, only one in four of the youths who have gone through the state’s system are re-incarcerated within three years of release.

How many more reports, tragedies and thrown away lives will we continue to endure? How long will we continue to waste precious dollars on this failed approach? How much longer will we, as a society, continue to be clueless and intellectually captured by the myth of “tough on crime”?

It’s time to get a clue.

About the Author


  1. Thanks a lot for giving everyone a very wonderful chance to check tips from this blog. It really is so pleasurable plus full of a lot of fun for me personally and my office acquaintances to visit your site at the very least thrice a week to study the latest tips you have got. Of course, I am just always fascinated considering the beautiful creative concepts served by you. Certain two points in this article are basically the most efficient we’ve had.

  2. I precisely had to say thanks yet again. I am not sure the things I would’ve accomplished in the absence of the entire tips contributed by you concerning my area of interest. It absolutely was a hard case for me personally, but considering the very skilled form you dealt with the issue took me to weep for happiness. I am thankful for your help and pray you know what a great job you were doing training some other people with the aid of your webpage. Most likely you have never encountered any of us.

  3. I must express my affection for your kind-heartedness supporting folks who must have guidance on this one niche. Your personal commitment to passing the message all-around was really good and have truly allowed guys and women much like me to arrive at their targets. This informative advice implies a great deal a person like me and extremely more to my mates. Thanks a lot; from everyone of us.

  4. I actually wanted to construct a brief word so as to say thanks to you for all of the remarkable tricks you are posting on this site. My considerable internet search has finally been rewarded with useful facts and strategies to write about with my relatives. I would say that we readers are unquestionably blessed to be in a perfect place with very many special professionals with valuable plans. I feel truly privileged to have used the webpage and look forward to really more amazing minutes reading here. Thank you once more for everything.

  5. I and my pals came reading the nice suggestions located on your website and at once developed an awful suspicion I had not expressed respect to the site owner for those techniques. These women ended up for that reason joyful to read through them and already have very much been loving them. Appreciation for actually being well thoughtful and then for pick out such ideal resources most people are really wanting to know about. Our honest apologies for not saying thanks to earlier.

  6. I want to voice my appreciation for your kind-heartedness in support of those individuals that have the need for guidance on this important subject matter. Your very own commitment to getting the message across appeared to be surprisingly interesting and has consistently empowered girls like me to achieve their ambitions. Your amazing warm and friendly suggestions indicates a lot a person like me and especially to my peers. Many thanks; from each one of us.

  7. I simply had to say thanks all over again. I’m not certain the things I might have accomplished in the absence of the recommendations provided by you concerning that area of interest. Previously it was the depressing problem in my opinion, nevertheless considering your professional mode you solved the issue forced me to leap for joy. Now i am happier for this help and as well , expect you find out what a powerful job you have been undertaking educating men and women all through your webblog. I know that you have never encountered any of us.

  8. I wish to voice my gratitude for your kindness for individuals who must have help with this particular idea. Your very own dedication to passing the message throughout was especially valuable and have frequently permitted workers much like me to arrive at their pursuits. Your entire informative facts denotes a whole lot to me and a whole lot more to my peers. Many thanks; from everyone of us.

  9. golden goose says:

    I’m commenting to let you understand of the magnificent discovery my friend’s daughter experienced using your site. She came to find so many things, not to mention how it is like to have a marvelous teaching mindset to make many others just learn about certain grueling matters. You actually surpassed her desires. Many thanks for delivering the precious, safe, revealing and as well as fun guidance on this topic to Mary.

  10. I and my buddies have already been checking out the nice recommendations from the blog and then instantly came up with a horrible feeling I never thanked you for those techniques. Those men had been as a result happy to read through them and have now without a doubt been enjoying these things. Thanks for truly being quite accommodating and for picking this kind of quality ideas most people are really needing to discover. Our own honest regret for not expressing gratitude to earlier.

  11. I would like to point out my respect for your kindness in support of men and women that should have help on your situation. Your very own dedication to getting the message all-around has been surprisingly functional and have really enabled workers like me to get to their dreams. Your interesting facts indicates a great deal to me and further more to my peers. Many thanks; from each one of us.

  12. nmd says:

    I have to show my thanks to the writer for rescuing me from such a setting. After exploring through the the web and seeing notions which were not beneficial, I figured my life was gone. Being alive devoid of the approaches to the problems you have fixed by means of your main short article is a crucial case, and the ones which might have negatively affected my career if I hadn’t noticed your web blog. Your talents and kindness in touching a lot of things was vital. I’m not sure what I would have done if I had not encountered such a thing like this. I can now look ahead to my future. Thanks for your time so much for this high quality and amazing guide. I won’t think twice to recommend your blog to any individual who needs and wants care about this subject.

  13. My wife and i ended up being so fulfilled when Michael managed to complete his investigations by way of the precious recommendations he discovered through your web site. It is now and again perplexing just to possibly be giving for free tricks that many some others might have been selling. And we remember we have got the website owner to appreciate for that. The illustrations you’ve made, the easy website navigation, the relationships your site make it possible to promote – it’s most astonishing, and it is leading our son in addition to our family consider that this issue is amusing, which is wonderfully fundamental. Thank you for all!

  14. I’m just commenting to let you understand of the outstanding experience my cousin’s princess undergone reading your blog. She learned lots of pieces, not to mention what it’s like to have an amazing helping mood to have many others smoothly learn about chosen extremely tough matters. You really did more than our expected results. Many thanks for producing such helpful, safe, educational and fun tips on the topic to Sandra.

  15. My husband and i were thankful that Jordan managed to conclude his inquiry using the precious recommendations he got when using the web page. It’s not at all simplistic to just happen to be making a gift of facts which usually most people have been trying to sell. So we know we’ve got the writer to thank for that. The illustrations you made, the straightforward site navigation, the friendships your site aid to engender – it’s got all astounding, and it’s aiding our son and our family reason why this situation is cool, and that’s highly important. Many thanks for all!

  16. My husband and i ended up being peaceful that Emmanuel could complete his basic research with the ideas he acquired from your web page. It is now and again perplexing to simply be freely giving guidelines which people have been making money from. We see we’ve got the writer to appreciate for that. These illustrations you have made, the easy site navigation, the relationships you will make it easier to foster – it’s all astonishing, and it’s really assisting our son in addition to us recognize that the issue is amusing, and that’s particularly important. Thank you for all!

  17. yeezy says:

    I am only commenting to make you know what a remarkable experience my daughter went through reading through your site. She came to find a good number of things, which include what it’s like to have an incredible teaching heart to let the mediocre ones very easily understand a variety of very confusing subject areas. You really exceeded visitors’ expected results. I appreciate you for producing these essential, healthy, informative and in addition easy tips on this topic to Ethel.

  18. I’m commenting to make you be aware of of the nice experience my princess encountered browsing your blog. She picked up a good number of things, including what it’s like to possess a very effective teaching style to let other individuals very easily grasp several complex subject areas. You really surpassed my expectations. Thanks for imparting these interesting, trustworthy, edifying and as well as cool guidance on the topic to Emily.

  19. adidas ultra says:

    I just wanted to post a brief word to appreciate you for all the wonderful instructions you are writing on this website. My prolonged internet investigation has finally been honored with awesome content to exchange with my family. I ‘d believe that most of us readers are rather blessed to exist in a really good website with so many perfect professionals with valuable opinions. I feel very fortunate to have discovered your site and look forward to plenty of more enjoyable minutes reading here. Thanks a lot once more for all the details.

  20. I in addition to my friends happened to be studying the good hints found on your web blog and before long got a terrible feeling I had not expressed respect to the site owner for those tips. My guys appeared to be as a result stimulated to see all of them and now have surely been loving them. Thanks for indeed being well kind as well as for picking some decent subjects millions of individuals are really wanting to discover. Our honest apologies for not expressing appreciation to you earlier.

  21. My spouse and i felt now excited that Emmanuel managed to complete his research via the precious recommendations he came across through the web page. It’s not at all simplistic just to always be giving away things that many most people have been making money from. And we also fully understand we now have you to thank for that. The type of explanations you made, the simple blog menu, the relationships you can make it easier to promote – it’s got many astounding, and it’s really facilitating our son and our family understand the idea is fun, and that is especially essential. Many thanks for everything!

  22. My husband and i felt now relieved when Chris managed to round up his research from the ideas he came across through your web pages. It is now and again perplexing to just possibly be freely giving tips and tricks which usually some people might have been trying to sell. We do know we have got the writer to appreciate because of that. The most important explanations you have made, the straightforward website menu, the friendships you make it possible to foster – it’s all terrific, and it’s letting our son and the family imagine that the article is exciting, and that’s highly mandatory. Thanks for all the pieces!

  23. hermes says:

    I’m also commenting to let you know what a nice discovery my friend’s girl had reading yuor web blog. She picked up numerous things, with the inclusion of how it is like to possess a wonderful teaching style to have many people effortlessly gain knowledge of specific tricky subject matter. You actually surpassed my expectations. Thanks for producing the powerful, trustworthy, explanatory and as well as easy tips about this topic to Gloria.

  24. My husband and i got fulfilled that Michael could deal with his preliminary research through the precious recommendations he obtained out of the web site. It is now and again perplexing just to be releasing points which the others have been selling. And now we acknowledge we have got the blog owner to be grateful to for this. These explanations you have made, the easy site navigation, the relationships you will make it easier to instill – it’s got most astonishing, and it’s aiding our son in addition to the family know that that article is entertaining, which is certainly incredibly serious. Thank you for all!

  25. yeezy says:

    I would like to show my affection for your kindness in support of those individuals that must have assistance with this area. Your real commitment to getting the solution up and down appears to be exceedingly important and has constantly permitted somebody much like me to achieve their dreams. Your entire important information denotes this much a person like me and extremely more to my office colleagues. Thank you; from all of us.

  26. kd shoes says:

    My spouse and i have been thrilled Peter could finish off his research through the entire ideas he discovered from your own weblog. It is now and again perplexing just to be giving freely tips which many others have been trying to sell. And we also realize we need you to thank for this. The main illustrations you’ve made, the simple web site navigation, the relationships you can aid to engender – it is all fabulous, and it is making our son in addition to us reason why that article is amusing, which is unbelievably fundamental. Many thanks for the whole lot!

  27. I precisely wished to appreciate you all over again. I’m not certain the things I would’ve used in the absence of the type of smart ideas discussed by you on such industry. It was before the challenging condition in my circumstances, but discovering the expert strategy you managed that made me to weep over happiness. I’m just grateful for the work and as well , trust you realize what an amazing job your are doing instructing others via your websites. I’m certain you’ve never met all of us.

  28. I as well as my buddies were actually looking at the best advice found on the website and then at once I got a terrible feeling I never thanked the web blog owner for those secrets. These ladies happened to be so joyful to learn them and have really been enjoying these things. Many thanks for genuinely well thoughtful as well as for obtaining such terrific ideas millions of individuals are really needing to be aware of. Our honest regret for not saying thanks to you earlier.

  29. lebron 13 says:

    Thank you for every one of your work on this blog. My mum enjoys making time for internet research and it is obvious why. I know all about the lively manner you render worthwhile information on this website and as well attract participation from other individuals on that issue then our favorite child is truly being taught a lot of things. Have fun with the remaining portion of the new year. You are conducting a splendid job.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Website by Radish Lab.