Monday, May 16, 2011

Children in Prisons

A child in prison surely sounds like a superfluous statement, for unquestionably children do not belong in prison. The word prison is often synonymous with adult, yet sadly around the globe there are some 1 million children languishing in prisons, and most of these are not some special child prison or version of juvenile detention, but adult prisons.
According to the Convention on the Rights of the Child the imprisonment of a child to be used “only as a measure of last resort and for the shortest appropriate period of time” and that the child “shall be treated with humanity and respect for the inherent dignity of the human person, and in a manner which takes into account the needs of persons of his or her age”
Poverty and war often lead children to the streets and they therefore often find themselves embattled in a life of petty crime, sex trafficking, begging, etc. Life on the streets for many children quickly leads them to be placed behind bars, such as in the Philippines.

In many countries, women who are placed in prisons who have children for which they cannot find relatives to care for, are often forced to take their children with them. Children are then imprisoned along with their mothers, where they often lack access to any form of education. The lack of education on a child can be devastating and in turn create a cycle of poverty. Such a case reached the media in May when in Zambia, Kabwe Social Workers Rescue Five Children From Prison. The five children, who's ages ranged from 5 months to 4 years old, where placed in the care of local social services after they where discovered in the dire conditions of the maximum security prison. However the case in Zambia mirrors that of many other countries such as Ethiopia, Sudan and many other countries.
The issue of children in prison, or detention centers, does not even escape western nations such as the US. As discussed in the post Child Detainees, An International Crime?, children detained at the Hutto, Texas, center. Hutto was again brought to light again only today in The New Yorker article, The Lost Children: What do tougher detention policies mean for illegal immigrant families?,
Children who are either placed in prison for their own perceived crimes and those who are placed in prison along side their mothers, are not the only children affected by what many see as systems failing families, including in the US as was brought to light this month in the article, Women, children suffer from harsh prison policies, on women in detention. Many states in the US are now looking at alternative solutions including prison nurseries, halfway houses, and other programs which help mothers and children foster healthier and more substantial relationships, in order to brake the cycle of prison life in the family.
The issue of children in prisons and detention centers is complex and varied, but one thing is clear, all of these children are being denied a fundamental right to childhood! The denial of freedom has led these children to be denied the rights to education, the right to play and thus the right to a healthy and happy existence.
Across the United States, thousands of children have been sentenced as adults and sent to adult prisons. Over 2200 juveniles nationwide have been sentenced to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole. Children as young as 13 years old have been tried as adults and sentenced to die in prison, typically without any consideration of their age or circumstances of the offense.

Many young children in America are imperiled by abuse, neglect, domestic and community violence, and poverty. Without effective intervention and help, these children suffer, struggle, and fall into despair and hopelessness. Some young teens cannot manage the emotional, social, and psychological challenges of adolescence and eventually engage in destructive and violent behavior. Sadly, many states have ignored the crisis and dysfunction that creates child delinquency and instead have subjected kids to further victimization and abuse in the adult criminal justice system.
For children with parole-eligible sentences, unique release and re-entry challenges too often create insurmountable obstacles to parole and successful re-entry. Young people who have been in prison since they were adolescents need help learning basic life skills.

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