CHILDREN IN LOCKDOWN
Second Class Justice is a first-class new blog published by Stephen B. Bright, who heads the Southern Center for Human Rights in Atlanta. It’s primary aim is “ending the unfair and discriminatory treatment of people in the criminal justice system by documenting that treatment.” It’s mission statement continues:
Contrary to the constitutional guarantees of due process and equal protection of the laws and the etching “Equal Justice Under Law” on the Supreme Court building, the kind of justice people get in America’s courts depends very much upon the amount of money they have. Poor people are deprived of their liberty – and even their lives – because they cannot afford competent legal representation. The rich and guilty often have a better chance of avoiding conviction than those who are poor and innocent.
This blog documents examples of second class – and sometimes third world – “justice” for the poor and people of color in the hope that knowledge will someday overcome the indifference, hostility and racism that have affected the criminal justice system throughout America’s history, and bring about a just, fair, humane and reliable system.
Recently, Bright described the case of a juvenile murder suspect who is being held in isolation in a county jail in Tennessee for the sole reason that his family is too poor to afford his bond, set at $500,000.
A 15-year old child, JP, charged with murder, has been locked up in a cell in the Montgomery County in Clarksville, Tennessee since July 2009 with no physical contact from a member of his family and no schooling. His mother is allowed to “visit” him by seeing him twice a week for 30 minutes on a TV monitor. She has not touched her son in over a year. She has not hugged him, or kissed his cheek, or brushed his hair off his forehead. The child has gone for over a year with no physical contact other than a correctional officer holding his arms when they move him.
This is child abuse and neglect. If a parent locked a 15-year old child away for a year with no physical contact, he or she would be charged with child abuse. If the parent refused to let the child attend school for a year, he or she would be charged with child abuse or neglect, a well a violation the state’s compulsory education laws. Yet this is precisely what the officials at the Montgomery County Jail have been doing and intend to continue until trial, tentatively set for March 2011.
The psychological damage that is taking place is incalculable. The child was held in a mental hospital for a week and half immediately after his arrest. He attempted suicide shortly after being arrested while he was in a juvenile detention center. A mental health professional at the hospital prescribed him an anti-depressant. However, once the court ruled that he would be tried as an adult all treatment stopped. Six months after he went to jail, the jail physician, who is not a mental health professional, took him off of the anti-depressant. For a number of months, the child was held in his cell for 23 hours a day, allowed only one hour a day to shower and make phone calls. He is developing quirks, he jerks a lot when he talks, twitches his head.
Unless something changes, JP could spend close to two years in jail before he is tried–in other words, while he remains, in the eyes of the law, innocent of any crime.