Monday, January 21, 2008

Life In Prison For Kids

We in the USA tend to think of ourselves as a very progressive, child-centered country. So when asked to name the two countries in the world that refused to sign the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child, would we ever guess that we are one of those countries? Yep, we are.
The reason why we refused to sign this document is because it prohibits the lifelong imprisonment of children. The rest of the countries, which signed the document, felt that it was wrong to sentence someone to grow up, live his entire life, and finally die, in prison, for a crime he committed as a child.
But I guess it would make the USA look sort of silly if we signed that document! After all, we have 2,270 children who will never see the outside of a prison for as long as they live!
In our mostly conservative country, we believe that every crime should be severely, severely punished, even if that crime is committed by a child. Even if a child is only marginally involved in a crime... for instance, a twelve-year-old who was convinced into hiding a gun for a neighborhood adult gang member... we believe that no mercy should be shown.
Consider the story of Sara. Raised by an abusive, drug-addicted mother, when Sara was eleven years old she went to live with an adult man she met, who was kind to her and acted like a father. But once he had Sara under his roof, he began to molest her, and sent her out to be a prostitute. When Sara was sixteen years old, she killed the man who had basically kidnapped her. For this, Sara will spend the rest of her life in prison.
Another story is the story of Antonio, who was fourteen years old when he got into a car with two adult men he knew. Later, one of the men would claim that the other had kidnapped him. The car Antonio was riding in ended up being involved in a police chase, and when the police managed to stop the car, Antonio was arrested along with the adults. Antonio was charged with aggravated kidnapping, and sentenced to life in prison.
How about the story of Brandon, a seventeen-year-old who was involved in a fistfight that broke out among several of his friends. One of Brandon's friends pulled out a knife and stabbed another boy. The boy died. Because he was involved in the fistfight, Brandon will now live the rest of his life in prison.
Not all of the stories of kids growing up in prison are stories where a kid happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Many stories are chilling, such as the story of the fourteen-year-old girl who doused her grandmother with gasoline and set her on fire (the grandmother lived) or the fourteen-year-old boy who beat a man to death with a baseball bat and then set the man's trailer on fire. But the question remains... should kids be imprisoned for their entire lives for crimes they committed at such young ages? Some argue that life imprisonment is even worse than the death penalty for kids, because they actually have to live out lifetimes of horror. Many kids are living out life sentences for crimes they committed against adults who had severely abused them, or for crimes they were coaxed by adults to commit.
Generally when teenagers are sentenced as adults, which is usually the case when they get life imprisonment sentences, they actually have to go to adult prisons. There, they are at serious risk of being abused at the hands of adult inmates and guards.
I think it is a pretty sad thing that kids all over the world are, at least in this one way, safer than kids in the USA.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

wooow they should get out not stay in their for life!!!!