Mind Matters — A Travesty To Teens

Once again I channel Charles—Dickens, that is. It’s not hard to see the need for his form of muckraking while hearing or reading the news. The most recent story to raise my ire is about the Pennsylvania youth unjustly incarcerated in juvenile detention centers so that the judges that sentenced them could, apparently, get rich. These two judges were bribed by privately owned youth facilities.

Working early in my career in Western Pennsylvania, in community mental health, I dealt with family court, probation officers, and juvenile detention centers firsthand. In those days as well, young teens, who had done little but be “incorrigible” to their parents, were placed in juvenile detention—but rarely for any length of time. It was not a pretty scene, but to my knowledge, no one was making money off their young trauma. Reading now about corrupt judges being bribed by corrupt, for-profit jails is an abomination.

Culpability does not rest with the judges and their companies alone. Others may be implicated as well, including a psychologiest, reported in the Philadelphia Inquirer (November 30, 2009) to be a relative of one of the judges who profited also.

Federal prosecutors say that thousands of teens were remanded to detention centers after denial of constitutional rights. These teens included a sixteen year old boy charged with driving without a license, then jailed for eight months with his social security survivor benefits (from the death of his father) being garnished by the court. Another typical story is that of the young girl who lampooned her assistant principal in a brief MySpace piece.

Most stories did not warrant going to court in the first place, let alone the severe punishment that ensued. How is it that these judges and the for-profit juvenile jails got away with this outrageous behavior for so long?

We ought to be protecting all our children, no matter what their socio-economic status. My hunch is that many of these families were duped by the system because they did not have the means, mindset, or opportunity to question the unjust practices of these officials.

I cannot help but wonder also about the state of these profit institutions. If these private corporations had no qualms about bribing judges, what is the corollary of that immoral and uncaring attitude? There needs to be a thorough investigation of not only how these unjustly incarcerated teens were treated, but also how teens who are placed legally are cared for.

When do we as a society recognize that our youth are our best “asset” for the future. To treat teens with such cruelty for personal gain is a Dickens’ story gone twenty-first century. And yet we, in this “new age,” should know better.

We know that the adolescent brain is not a “done deal.” We know that young minds (and bodies) rely on competent adults to give compassionate guidance and to model right behavior. A few weeks ago there was a great uproar in the neighborhood about two dogs who were maliciously killed. Now again, let us rally: for the well-being of the children in our midst. No matter where they live, they are our future.