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Wednesday, June 1, 2011

These Kids Locked Away With Adults

There will always be some juveniles who deserve to be tried and punished in the adult system, either because their crimes are particularly coldblooded or because they have been given repeated chances to reform and repeatedly failed to do so. Even some of the staunchest advocates for juveniles concede that a few of them are irredeemably dangerous. "I'm a believer that there is true evil in the world," Darrow Soll, a former public defender and prosecutor in Phoenix told me. "I'm not so foolish as to think that every child can be saved just because of their age. But an effort has to be made. There are a few who you say no juvenile system in the world is going to be able to save. But in my experience, those are definitely the exceptions

Some though just get caught up.
Police should never force questions upon a minor without a parent,
social worker, or officer from the Juvenile system.
questions acquire a particular poignancy when it comes to the investigative stage of a crime, during which young suspects are interviewed by the police. Children, especially those 12 and under, are much more likely to waive their rights. (In one study, 90 percent of juvenile suspects waived their rights to silence and to counsel, compared with 60 percent of adults.) And they are much more likely to say what they think adults want to hear, especially if they think it means they can go home soon. The 7- and 8-year-old boys accused of sexually assaulting and killing 11-year-old Ryan Harris in Chicago two years ago -- and later cleared of all charges -- were enticed to confess over a McDonald's Happy Meal. An 11-year-old boy who now says he falsely confessed to murdering his elderly neighbor wanted to get the police interview over with so he could go home to his younger brother's birthday party. "Kids confess all the time," says Mara Siegel, a deputy public defender in Phoenix. "They talk to the police all the time. It can drive you crazy."

Mark Chaffin, a pediatrician and psychologist at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center, agrees that children are particularly vulnerable to offering false confessions. "Tendencies like wanting to please, wanting to say what they think the adult authority figure wants to hear or misunderstanding the situation," he says, all leave children at risk. "I think law-enforcement officials know how to interview people who are mentally retarded or psychotic," he adds. "But there's not a lot of specific training about how you interview a 10-year-old suspect."

A few states require the presence of an "interested adult" -- usually a parent -- when a child is being interrogated, but most do not. So what should be done? "My recommendation," says Thomas Grisso, a forensic psychologist at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, "is that kids 14 or under who are being questioned should have at least a parent available. Even if they don't have good relationships with their parents, the parents are still the people they look to for their buffer, their protection."

By the age of 14, several studies have shown, most children can accurately explain the purpose of trials and the role of judges and juries and can offer reasonably accurate definitions of a right. Children under 14, however, have a much weaker grasp on these concepts. Studies that have looked at juveniles' understanding of specific Miranda rights have found that adolescents 15 and older generally comprehend them about as well as adults, but that younger children frequently misconstrue them. According to Grisso, many children understood "the right to remain silent" to mean "they should remain silent until they were told to talk."
he body of research on juveniles in adult prison is not especially large. Until recently, there weren't enough Jessica Robinsons to warrant systematic information-gathering. It isn't even all that easy to locate young inmates, in part because states have adopted different policies about how and where to house them. "The majority of states follow a practice of dispersing young inmates in the general prison population," says Dale Parent, a project director with the research firm Abt Associates in Cambridge, Mass., which is conducting a long-term study on juveniles in state prison systems. "They might not put a small, vulnerable adolescent in a cell with a sex offender, but other than that, they do not segregate the youth, and they have no separate programs for them. A few states have extreme segregation -- physically separate housing units where youthful offenders have no contact with the adult population -- or arrangements with the state juvenile facility where they spend a few years there and are transferred to prison on their 18th birthdays."

There are plenty of reasons to keep juvenile offenders away from the adult prison population. In general, young prisoners are more vulnerable than adults to sexual exploitation and physical brutalization. They are more likely than older inmates to commit suicide. They are more likely than young people in juvenile detention facilities to be physically assaulted and to return to a life of crime when they are set free.

None of this should come as any surprise. Prison populations are not only older, larger and more criminally experienced than juvenile detention populations, they are also more violent. (Nearly 50 percent of prison inmates are violent offenders, while only 20 percent of juvenile training school residents are.) Prisoners tend to be much more idle than juveniles in detention. Only one-third of state prison inmates work more than 34 hours a week, and only half take classes. In juvenile facilities, on the other hand, kids spend most of the day in school, vocational-training, group counseling, substance abuse programs and the like and are encouraged to form bonds with their counselors and teachers. When Donna Bishop, a professor of criminology

at Northeastern University, interviewed minors in juvenile and adult facilities in Florida, she concluded that youths in prison "spent much of their time talking to more skilled

and experienced offenders who taught them new techniques of committing crime and methods of avoiding detection."

An earlier study that Bishop and Charles Frazier conducted in Florida points to the effects of such environments on recidivism. Thousands of young offenders are sent to criminal court in Florida each year. But because so many of those transfers come about at the discretion of prosecutors, thousands of other juveniles, charged with equally serious crimes, are not. Bishop and Frazier were thus able to match by age, race, gender, current charges and past criminal record 2,738 juveniles who had been prosecuted as adults with 2,738 who had stayed in the juvenile system. Over a period of up to two years, they found that 30 percent of the teenagers prosecuted in criminal court were rearrested; the figure for those who had gone through the juvenile system was 19 percent. Transfers also proved more likely to be arrested for more serious offenses.

For all these reasons, many prison and jail officials would rather they never had to deal with youthful inmates at all. "We don't want juveniles locked up with adults," says Ken Kerle, the managing editor of American Jails magazine, the official publication of the American Jails Association. "I don't think we're doing the country any good by going back to Square 1 and chucking the whole idea of a separate system for juveniles. You can't handle kids like you handle adults. They're mercurial; they've got a lot of emotional growing-up to do. They need education, they need exercise and they need guards who have some insight into them. Put 'em in adult facilities, and they come out worse than when they went in





hen Jessica Robinson was 13, she took part in a crime that Judge Barbara Levenson called "horrible, vile" and one of the most "deeply saddening" cases she had ever heard in her courtroom. On July 12, 1997, animated by a vague plan to go to Disney World with their spoils, Jessica and two older teenagers robbed her grandparents in their Miami home. It was Jessica who knocked on the door, calling, "Grandma, I need to talk to you." Once inside, she and another girl ransacked the house, snatching up jewelry, cash, liquor and clothes, while the 16-year-old boy with them slashed the furniture and the hand of Jessica's grandfather. At one point, the boy led Jessica's grandparents onto a glassed-in porch, where he threatened to kill them. Neither of the victims was seriously harmed, but as her grandmother testified at Jessica's sentencing: "Me and her grandpa is not young anymore. Our lives have been destroyed. We are terrified to go to our door." And she added plaintively, "I would like to ask her: 'Why? Why, honey?"'


Any child 14 or younger is too unformed, too vulnerable, too easily swayed, too limited in his understanding of the criminal process to be subjected to it in full force.




Though Jessica had not actually wielded the knife or herded the victims onto the porch, she was charged with assault and armed kidnapping as well as armed robbery and sentenced to nine years in an adult prison. Asked to apologize to her grandparents during the trial, she at first refused, then managed only an impassive "I'm sorry" at the sentencing. "Animals," Judge Levenson told her, "don't treat their families the way you treated your family."

Jessica's family had never been much of a haven. Her mother left her dad, whom she described to Jessica's lawyers as abusive, in 1986, when the girls were 3 and 6. "I was scared," she told Claudia Kemp, a student at the Florida State University College of Law who is working on an appeal for Jessica, "scared that either he would eventually kill me or I would have to kill him in order to protect myself and the children." The family moved from Austin, Tex., to Miami, and Jessica has not seen her father since.

In Miami, Jessica's mother found a one-bedroom apartment in a housing project for her and the girls and worked as a waitress on the night shift at Denny's. She told Kemp that she often felt exhausted and frustrated, and that when she did, she would hit Jessica with a belt or her hand. Still, until Jessica entered the seventh grade, she seems to have caused little trouble at school or at home. A family friend thought of her as "a very normal, sweet kid" who loved to swim, sing and ride her bike. At 13, though, Jessica started getting into fights at home -- on one occasion, throwing a plate at her 16-year-old sister; on another, biting her mother's hand. According to juvenile records, she repeatedly ran away for weeks at a time, occasionally staying at the apartment of a drug dealer in his 20's named Shorty.




Four teenagers doing time with grown-up: James Corporal, 17. Sentenced to six years in 1997 for sexual battery on a child.

Norbert Clemente, 17. Sentenced to four years in 1997 for attempted carjacking.

Tobias Thomas, 15. Sentenced to six years in 1998 for home invasion, assault and battery of a person over 65.


Brandon Hartsoe, 16. Sentenced to seven years in 1998 for attempted murder using his mother's gun.

Photographs by Jean Hart Howard

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A psychologist who evaluated her after one of these incidents described her as a girl of average intelligence, "cooperative with the examiner," but suffering from a "severe conduct disorder." A psychiatrist thought Jessica was "extremely childish and coquettish." Both evaluators recommended that Jessica be placed in a secure residential treatment center where she could receive therapy and a more definitive diagnosis. Instead, she was released into her grandparents' care; and when she quarreled with them, too, her grandmother called the police and Jessica was arrested again. Jessica told Kemp that her motivation for helping to rob her grandparents stemmed from this fight, that she was driven by "nothing but revenge."

On July 30, 1998, Jessica arrived at Jefferson Correctional Institution, a women's prison with conspicuous gun towers and a tough reputation, located 30 miles east of Tallahassee. At 14, she was then the youngest female in the Florida correctional system and the object of considerable curiosity. In the dining hall or the exercise yard, other prisoners strained for a good look at her, this lethargic girl with big green eyes, dirty blond hair hanging straight down her back and a prison-issue uniform that billowed over her slight frame. Within her first few weeks at Jefferson, Jessica tried to commit suicide. For a long time, her lawyers say, she seemed genuinely confused about the parameters of prison life. She kept asking them if she could just go out for a couple of hours with them -- to the beach or to Taco Bell, maybe -- and come back that night.

In prison, Jessica has found surrogate mothers to replace the real one who has yet to visit her incarcerated daughter. Jessica's first mother was a stocky, gray-haired woman named Susanne Manning, who was serving a 25-year term for embezzlement. Manning had a 13-year-old son of her own on the outside, and she pushed Jessica to do her homework, bought her snacks, read her "The Little Mermaid" and kept her out of fights when she could. "An embezzler is about the most trustworthy type you can find in prison," says Paolo Annino, a lawyer with the Children's Advocacy Center at the Florida State University College of Law who is representing Jessica in her appeal. "It's a lot better than having some slasher take you under her wing."

In October of last year, however, Jessica was transferred to Dade County Correctional Institution, near Miami. Her "family"at Dade is larger and more elaborate than it was in Tallahassee -- it includes women whom Jessica calls her grandparents, great-grandparents, uncles, cousins, sisters, brothers. It is also considerably rougher, and for this reason, it is easy to see how a girl could settle into a life not just of crime but of truly depraved crime. The woman Jessica now refers to as Mommy, a beautiful, blue-eyed, heavily tattooed 29-year-old with the nickname Blackie, is serving a life sentence for murder. She and a male accomplice robbed two elderly people and cut their throats with a machete. The other Dade prisoner who wanted to be Jessica's mommy -- they staged a sort of custody battle -- stole an elderly man's checks with an accomplice, who then beat the man to death.

At Dade, Jessica isn't going to class anymore to get her G.E.D. "In a juvenile facility, you're required to attend school; in an adult prison, you're not," Kemp says. "Jessica's a teenager, and she finds a lot of reasons not to." She goes to her prison family for advice now. They don't think much of school, but in their way, they spoil her. On her 16th birthday, they made Jessica a cake out of Pop-Tarts and melted chocolate bars from the canteen; they buy her cigarettes; they think her street-girl swagger is cute. "She gets a lot of attention," says Kemp. "It's a mixed-up world in there, and there's a value to being associated with her."

Annino and Kemp are trying to get Jessica transferred to a juvenile facility where she can receive psychological counseling and an education. When Annino first met Jessica, he concluded his interview by asking, as he asks all his clients, what she wanted from her association with him. Jessica "looked up sort of sleepily and said, 'Milk,"' Annino recalls. "She wanted more milk than she was getting in the prison diet, which is based on the nutritional needs of an adult. I have an 8-year-old at home, and that really struck me." As for Kemp, she is 47, with three daughters of her own, and says she couldn't help feeling protective of her client. "When you first meet her, she seems very defiant. She's got this heavy street accent. But when you spend time with her, you see she's still such a child. She whines; she fidgets. She wants your attention; she wants to be taken care of; she wants you to tell her to take her medication." Miami is a long way from Tallahassee, though,
and her lawyers hardly ever see Jessica in person anymore.

If their appeal fails, Jessica will get out of prison when she is 22. She will have no education beyond the sixth grade, no job skills,
no friends her age and no experience of ordinary, unincarcerated life after the age of 13. What she will have is a felony record -- unlike the juvenile courts, adult courts do not preserve anonymity -- and a collection of "mothers" and mentors, among whom a convicted embezzler is by far the most wholesome. She will have been raised by wolves, and then she will be released,
like most juveniles convicted in adult court, when she is still young enough to commit many more crimes.
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The body of research on juveniles in adult prison is not especially large. Until recently, there weren't enough Jessica Robinsons to warrant systematic information-gathering. It isn't even all that easy to locate young inmates, in part because states have adopted different policies about how and where to house them. "The majority of states follow a practice of dispersing young inmates in the general prison population," says Dale Parent, a project director with the research firm Abt Associates in Cambridge, Mass., which is conducting a long-term study on juveniles in state prison systems. "They might not put a small, vulnerable adolescent in a cell with a sex offender, but other than that, they do not segregate the youth, and they have no separate programs for them. A few states have extreme segregation -- physically separate housing units where youthful offenders have no contact with the adult population -- or arrangements with the state juvenile facility where they spend a few years there and are transferred to prison on their 18th birthdays."

There are plenty of reasons to keep juvenile offenders away from the adult prison population. In general, young prisoners are more vulnerable than adults to sexual exploitation and physical brutalization. They are more likely than older inmates to commit suicide. They are more likely than young people in juvenile detention facilities to be physically assaulted and to return to a life of crime when they are set free.

None of this should come as any surprise. Prison populations are not only older, larger and more criminally experienced than juvenile detention populations, they are also more violent. (Nearly 50 percent of prison inmates are violent offenders, while only 20 percent of juvenile training school residents are.) Prisoners tend to be much more idle than juveniles in detention. Only one-third of state prison inmates work more than 34 hours a week, and only half take classes. In juvenile facilities, on the other hand, kids spend most of the day in school, vocational-training, group counseling, substance abuse programs and the like and are encouraged to form bonds with their counselors and teachers. When Donna Bishop, a professor of criminology

at Northeastern University, interviewed minors in juvenile and adult facilities in Florida, she concluded that youths in prison "spent much of their time talking to more skilled

and experienced offenders who taught them new techniques of committing crime and
methods of avoiding detection."


(Read Four teenagers doing time with grown-up:) Brandon Hartsoe, 16. Sentenced to seven years in 1998 for attempted murder using his mother's gun.
Tobias Thomas, 15. Sentenced to six years in 1998 for home invasion, assault and battery of a person over 65.

James Corporal, 17. Sentenced to six years in 1997 for sexual battery on a child.

Norbert Clemente, 17. Sentenced to four years in 1997 for attempted carjacking

http://www.nytimes.com/library/magazine/home/20000910mag-juvenile.html

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