By: Maya M.
Maya is a rising Junior and a member of the JSA club within the Ossining District. She is a student advocate for various programs such as Save The Children and the NAACP. She is highly involved in many advocacy programs and has recently become a founder of a student-driven curriculum club in her school.
"Prisons do not disappear social problems; they disappear human beings. Homelessness, unemployment, drug addiction, mental illness, and illiteracy are only a few of the problems that disappear from public view when the only human beings contending with them are relegated to cages." - Angela Davis.
My mother recalls the time she witnessed an arrest of a horrified 14-year-old boy.
The young boy, George, a Latino, was hearing and speech impaired. While waiting for his younger brother across the street, he was questioned by an undercover officer about where he could obtain drugs. When he cooperated and pointed across the street, he was arrested and charged with steering.
Now ask yourself, why would an officer arrest a disabled boy for simply complying with authorities?
The answer is simple; George had fallen into the hands of entrapment. For those who may not be familiar with this term, entrapment is a defense used in criminal court when a government agent has induced a defendant to commit a crime. In the U.S. legal system, the entrapment defense serves as a check on government agents' power and officials. It is an especially common matter of our justice system, which has lingered within our society for years and has severe implications for Black and Brown people in our country.
In 2016, an extensive study found that Black individuals were reportedly 12 times more likely to receive prison sentences for drug offenses. However, surveys have shown that White and Black people in the U.S. use and sell drugs at almost identical rates.
Black people only account for 14% of drug users in the country, still, they are found to be 34% of people arrested for drug offenses, and 45% of these individuals are behind bars due to drug charges.
Even though the number of youth incarcerations has declined overall, the placement of black offenders is significantly higher than that of white offenders.
In 2015, the rate of placement for black youth placement was 433 per 100,000; however, the white youth placement rate was 86 per 100,000. The disproportionate incarceration of black youth grew in thirty-seven states between 2001-2015.
Latinx and Black youth that are convicted face an unjust and rigorous trial, which often leads them towards being sentenced to adult prisons or face death in prison sentences.
Frequently these children endure a childhood within poverty and are raised in crime-ridden environments. Many also face trauma, abandonment, mental illness, and a lack of education.
Today, 4,500 children are housed in adult jails and prisons on any given day in America. The inhumane experiences of youth placed in adult prisons has lasted for decades, and even with having various movements and reforms transpired, Black and Latino children, in particular, were neglected.
Children who are sentenced to adult prisons due to entrapment often endure sexual and physical violence, increased trauma, depression, and suicide. It is perceived by many that regardless of reforms, such as child-labor laws and prison reforms, Latino and Black children were excluded.
Disturbingly, during the early 19th century, a substantial number of White reformers refused admittance to Black children in juvenile penitentiaries, and when convicted, these children were sentenced to adult prisons.
The United States Supreme Court prohibited execution for crimes committed at the age of fifteen or younger. Nineteen states have laws permitting the execution of persons who committed crimes at sixteen or seventeen. Since 1973, 226 juvenile death sentences have been imposed. Over the past decade, the U.S. has executed more juvenile offenders than every other nation in the world combined.
We are capable of making an immense impact on our society today. If you want to help bring forth social change, you can donate to organizations such as Campaign For Youth Justice, NAACP Legal Defense Fund, and Children Defense Fund. Promoting these reforms, creating campaigns and programs to help inform your peers/community members of these issues, and spreading awareness throughout your social media or program work, are only a few ways of making a significant change.
A society can not claim to have freedom unless every member enjoys the same freedoms and privileges.
In the words of Civil Rights leader Malcolm X, “It’s Freedom for everybody or freedom for nobody.”