Just Lock Up All The Kids…
by Suzanne Turner
• The U.S. has more children in custody than any other developed country.
• The number of juveniles incarcerated as adults has increased by more than half over the last decade.
Two years ago then-12-year-old Cristian Fernandez was charged as an adult in the death of his younger brother, David Galarraga. He faced a mandatory sentence of of life-without-parole. On Friday, Cristian accepted a plea bargain that allowed him to serve six years in a juvenile facility.
But not all children are so lucky. In past because Cristian’s prosecutor was the some-would-say-infamous Angela Core (who was also the prosecutor in the Trayvon Martin case) Cristian’s case received an avalanche of international publicity. He also had a top-shelf pro bono legal team-- estimated at over three million dollars worth of pro bono legal support.
But what happens to kids who don’t have an internationally respected legal team behind them?
The pre-high-priced lawyer early days of Cristian’s case might provide some clues:
How about not being told what you’re charged with, kept alone in an adult facility for nearly a month, then spending some time alone with a very nice lady who feeds you a good meal and gets you to tell her all about it? No lawyer present, no adult present, just you and the lady? Oh, and video of this “confession” gets to live on the Internet forever, even after a judge rules it inadmissable?
Yep, here it is:
How about finding out the mother didn’t bother to take her youngest son to the hospital for nearly eight hours after the alleged incident? Or how about state prosecutor Angela Corey (aka Florida’s Medea mother/monster), claiming life in prison is not what she meant at all, AT ALL, but that she couldn’t get what she needed in the juvenile system. Except, ack, everything she needed was in the juvenile system.
Okay, there has been a ray of hope. Three recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions have brought the U.S. from the dark ages to … hmmmm … the early 16th century. In Miller v. Alabama, Sullivan v. Florida and Graham v. Florida, SCOTUS has decided against the death penalty for juveniles, has limited certain life without parole sentences and has had something (somewhat unclear) to say about life sentences for kids in general. So, we’re not cutting of kids’ hands any more, or even stoning them to death. But… what are we doing?
And this all begs a much larger and less newsworthy question both for Cristian Fernandez and the larger population of children in jail. How are they being educated and prepared for adult life? What happens when they get out of the system?
So, where are we?
• There a gadjillion kids who don’t have multi-million dollar defense teams to help them-- and many of them are in Florida.
• Even though recent SCOTUS rulings have outlawed hanging naughty children or shooting them on sight, there’s a long way to go to humanize the system.
• We have no idea how well the children in our bulging-at-the-seams juvenile justice systems are being educated or prepared for post-detention life.
So, despite not sentencing Crisitan Fernandez to life in prison, here we are, at the beginning of a new millennia, with a juvenile justice system that puts Oliver Twist to shame.