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Monday, November 9, 2009

Update on Children in Prison post

Robert Barnes wrote a piece for the Washington Post that caught my attention this morning. The article is entitled "High Court to look at life in prison for juveniles". (

It states that today the Supreme Court will decide if sentencing juveniles to prison without the possibility of parole is unconstitutional. However, they are only asking that the juveniles who have committed non-homicide crimes be included in this. Surprisingly, there are currently 111 people in prisons across our country who were sentenced to life without the possibility of parole while they were juveniles for non-homicide crimes which would leave the subject of my earlier post out in the cold. I was really disappointed in that but at least this current development is a step in the right direction.

I was tremendously surprised that there were that many in our prisons and also that they were sent away to die in prison for non-homicidal crimes. What didn't surprise me is that Florida has 70% of these people. This was a result from Florida's rash of crimes against tourist back in the 1990's. As much as I would love to blame this on Jeb Bush, I was saddened to learn that he was not governor during these times. Instead the blame should rest squarely with Bob Martinez and Lawton Chiles.

There were (to my surprise) state representatives from 19 states who showed up to contest this. Of course, Florida was present but Louisiana was perhaps equally vocal in its opposition. I honestly cannot understand why anyone would oppose this.

The two cases being reviewed from Florida concerns Joe Harris Sullivan a convicted rapist (who maintains to this day that he is innocent) and Terrance Graham who was convicted after he was caught in a burglary while on probation.

Sullivan and Graham are supported by a wide-ranging group of organizations: the American Bar Association, the American Medical Association, the American Psychological Association, and academics and social scientists who argue that juveniles cannot be held responsible for their actions in the same way adults are. For the same reason, they say, younger teenagers are not entrusted with decisions such as voting, marrying or drinking.

But the states supporting Florida said the penalty is reserved for the worst offenders. "It is a rare and agonizing decision to sentence a juvenile to life-without-parole," said a brief filed by Louisiana and other states. "But rare does not mean unconstitutional. Rather, rarity is an index of mercy -- of reluctance to take this severe step."

The National District Attorneys Association, supporting Florida, said that while life without parole for juveniles might be unusual, "permanent incarceration for the most violent, hardened juvenile offenders is by no means 'cruel.' "

Justice Anthony M. Kennedy wrote that the immature actions and developing nature of a juvenile meant that "it is less supportable to conclude that even a heinous crime committed by a juvenile is evidence of irretrievably depraved character." He added: "It would be misguided to equate the failings of a minor with those of an adult, for a greater possibility exists that a minor's character deficiencies will be reformed."

Until a crystal ball is invented with which we can foresee the future, there is no way that we can state without pause that a child will NEVER be able to be rehabilitated. We simply cannot do this and should not even try.

I am completely against the giving of a life without possibility of parole or any sentence coming even close to that for a juvenile. I am also against the sending of minors to adult prisons. It wasn't until 2005 that our country stopped allowing minors to be executed for their crimes!! 2005!! Good God!

I can understand where this all started. There was a time not too awfully long ago, when gangs would take juveniles and "train" them to do illegal things because they knew if the juvenile was caught, he would go to juvie and then be back on the streets whereas his adult counterparts could face "the chair". This led to a rash of juveniles being recruited by gangs and other illegal groups and also to a rash of crimes, oftentimes violent, by these juvenile "armies".

However, allowing a child to grow up and die in prison is not the deterrent that the "powers that be" might have hoped for. This experiment failed miserably and needs to be stopped!

Why did it never enter into their heads to up the pressure on the adults who were recruiting these minors? Are our police in this country so inept that they can only catch juveniles in these situations? I mean really! Get these gangs off our streets and out of our neighborhoods and there will be no one to recruit these juveniles and without the recruiters, the vast majority of these juveniles either won't be arrested for anything worse than the stealing of a bike or a fight in the alley.

Let's look at it from a financial standpoint. To predict the cost to taxpayers to convict a juvenile is almost impossible. It depends on the nature of the crime and the depth and length of the trial. However, I can list a few costs that are pretty much across the board. There is the cost of the public defender and his/her staff. There is the cost of trial exhibits, the costs of finding witnesses and obtaining their statements. There are motions to be drafted, filed and argued. Subpoenas to be drafted, filed, executed and followed up on. Then comes the actual trial, conviction and sentencing phases. It is estimated that this can go as high as $700,000 per trial. Even higher if DNA or other specialized tests are performed and even higher still if expert witnesses are called.

Above all that, is the cost taxpayers pay for the other side. The prosecution. We have to have at least one prosecutor involved. There are police to investigate and come up with witnesses, witness statements, evidence and the testing of said evidence. There is a Judge to be paid and court costs, a court reporter. We have to house this juvenile while all this is going on. The cost can be pretty extreme.

It cost a minimum of $33,000 a year to keep a person in prison. That's an adult criminal. It costs more for a juvenile because of the extra protection and isolation that the juvenile has to have until he/she becomes an adult and is then thrown into the general population. But we will go with the $33,000 number.

Let's say the juvenile spends 20 years in prison. That's a pretty low number since if you are convicted at the ripe age of 17, there is a very good chance that you will live to be well over 37 years of age. But we will just go with that number for the sake of argument. 20 x $33,000 = $660,000.

So, $700,000 + $660,000 = $1,360,000 This number does not take into consideration increases in the prices of trial or imprisonment. Nor does it take into account the extra cost of housing a minor OR the extra cost of providing said minor with health care, dental care, vision care, or other "benefits" afforded them during their time in prison. It most certainly does NOT take into account any appeal cost.

Now let's look at the cost of sending that juvenile to an institution until they are an adult or rehabilitated. If you break it down, it costs an average of $93.22 a day to house an adult in prison. It costs approximately $618.00 to house an adult in a state mental health facility. That is a vast and enormous difference in price. On the surface it would certainly appear that the money saving is in sending the kids to prison.

However, remember that you are sending them to prison for the REST OF THEIR LIVES. You are providing them with health care for the rest of their lives. You are providing them with other benefits for the rest of their lives. Also, bear in mind that these prices are for adults and that juveniles in prison require extra's that are not reflected in this price.

Another thing to consider is supply and demand. The more people who use a facility, the lower the cost of that facility becomes. Simple economics. That's one reason private facilities cost so much more. Fewer people go there. If the government entered into a contract with a facility for their juvenile offenders, they would receive an awesome discount and this price would go down accordingly. Also, remember that this juvenile won't be spending the next 50 years in that facility. There is a more obtainable end in sight with this scenario versus prison.

So, if you take into account just the base cost of prison where they will simply be warehoused against the cost of sending them to a state facility where they could get help and perhaps be rehabilitated and get out in time to actually have a life ahead of them, it is on the surface less expensive to send them to prison. But as I said, factor in the health care and other benefits given to them during their lifetime in prison and it comes out pretty even.

Another good side effect of not sending them to prison is the room it will make for adult criminals in there making our need to release early due to overcrowding a little better.

I don't really care if it is more expensive, I just want us to stop sending our children to prison for the rest of their lives. Period.

But that's just me.

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