Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Radley Balko on the criminalization of childhood

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It’s come to the point where even kids are being prosecuted for acting like, well, kids: 5-year-olds cuffed to police cars for throwing a tantrum, 12-year-olds forced through a perp walk for scribbling on her desk, a boy being charged with terrorism for warning other kids not to finish all the potatoes in his school cafeteria, and innumerable other, less prominent but equally irrational incidents across the country. Here’s an enlightening interview with Radley Balko on Russia Today’s The Alyona Show with Alyona Minkovski wherein they discuss the issue:

My transcript: (click the [+/-] to expand/collapse →) []

Hostess Alyona starts by showcasing some more extreme examples of students being prosecuted for acting their age: a 5-year-old in Saint Petersburg, Florida, who was arrested, handcuffed and shackled to a police cruiser for throwing a temper tantrum; a 12-year-old in Forest Hills, New York, who was perp-walked out of her school and taken to the police station, then handcuffed a pole for two hours after she doodled on her desk; a 12-year-old boy in Louisiana with hyperactive disorder who was suspended for two days after telling kids in the lunch line ‘I’m gonna get you!’ if they ate all the potatoes. He ended up charged for making “terroristic threats” and then was jailed for two weeks while awaiting trial.

Alyona then showcases a Texas study of 1 million students across 4,000 state schools showing how 6/10 students were suspended or expelled at least once between 7th and 12th grade. Those suspended or expelled were 3 times as likely to come in contact with the juvenile system the following year.

Alyona then brings on Radley Balko. Balko explains that kids need to be able to make mistakes (that’s what kids do) without having negative repercussions for the rest of their lives. He says that teens have been showing off their nude parts to one another for all of human history, yet with the advent of telecommunication technology, this behavior is now being criminalized to “protect” minors against being exploited (or exploiting themselves?) by charging them with production of child porn, or forcing them to register as sex offenders.

Alyona asks what, exactly, is causing all these persecution of kids, especially those who don’t even commit any actual crimes and just do childish things (throwing tantrums, doodling on desks, etc.). Balko replies that it’s due to a mix of zero tolerance policies and (primarily) a lack of reasonable discretion. He notes the example of schoolkids who, a couple of years ago, got into a food-fight and a bunch of whom were then arrested and charged with felonies. Communities need to step in and realize that it’s their role to discipline kids, not that of cops and courts.

Alyona brings up a report of a Texas school that’s offering cash to get people to report truancy to the cops. Balko says that it used to be up to the community, but now it’s being delegated to law enforcement, who unjustly criminalize the behavior. He says that society makes it so that misbehavior is increasingly being treated as criminal.

Alyona describes reports stating that people (kids included) whose harmless behavior is criminalized are turned into disenfranchised, second-class citizens who then can’t get a job and end up filtering through the prison system over and over again.

Alyona then cites the Texas study in that while Black kids in Dallas make up 30% of the population, they receive 62% of the citations. Balko explains that while not every cop and prosecutor is racist, racism is still a nationwide problem.

Alyona mentions that the Obama administration claims it intends to investigate and reform the broken system, but both Alyona and Balko express skepticism that they’ll be able (or willing) to do anything about it in the end.

(via @TheAlyonaShow)