U.S. states are rapidly removing Confederate statues, symbols of racial oppression. But there is another holdover from slavery that is prevalent in our society today — the routine use of shackling persons using handcuffs, leg irons and other hardware to confine individuals in the justice system.
In Michigan, 17-year-olds are not allowed to buy lottery tickets, get a tattoo, rent a car or hotel room or drop out of school. They can’t vote, serve on a jury or sign a legal contract either, presumably because they don’t possess the requisite maturity to make adult-level decisions. This distinction, however, is tossed out the window if a 17-year-old breaks the law. Suddenly, they are adults, facing devastating repercussions that can come with an adult conviction.
More than two years after U.S. Supreme Court decisions started throwing out mandatory death and life sentences for minors, judges in Washington, Illinois and dozens of other states still lack guidance on what to do with juveniles past and present convicted of murder and some other serious felonies. “Courts are uncomfortable in trying to figure out what ‘life’ means in terms of years,” said Kimberly Ambrose, senior law lecturer at the University of Washington School of Law. She represented Guadalupe Solis-Diaz at the state’s Court of Appeals, arguing against a 92-year sentence he’s serving for six counts of first-degree assault and other charges for his role in a drive-by shooting. The then 16-year-old Solis-Diaz fired into a crowd in Centralia, Wash., in 2007, though did not injure his target or anyone else. It’s not clear in Washington if those 92 years are equivalent to what the U.S. Supreme Court calls “life” sentences.
I went into foster parenting with a touch of optimism, a dash of parenting skills and a whole heap of naiveté, none of which prepared me for the role of foster parent. One of my first lessons was the tenuous role I actually was allowed to play in two little girl’s lives. I welcomed Jayden* and Alicia* into my suburban Wheaton, Ill., home on a sunny morning in August. The bedroom was prepared with bunk beds and a chest of drawers ready to fill with little girl clothes and toys. We had a great set-up for adding children to our family of three sons.
An amended law that took effect July 1 made Mississippi the latest state to rethink how youth under the age of 18 are handled in criminal court. The new measure prevents most 17-year-old misdemeanor and nonviolent felony offenders from being tried as adults. Certain felonies including rape, murder and armed robbery may still warrant charges in the adult court system. Two other states, Connecticut and Illinois, passed similar reforms earlier this year bringing the national total to 39 states that view juveniles as any individual below the age of 18, according to a report issued last week by the Campaign for Youth Justice. “This is a good news report.” Liz Ryan, director of the Campaign for Youth Justice, -- a Washington, D.C.-based non-profit focused on the issue -- told USA Today.
Blogger Benjamin Chambers brings up the subject of debilitating state budget cuts, pointing out the depressing news that the state of Illinois plans to zero-out its budget for alcohol and drug prevention and treatment programs and asks, just how bad can it get? As of March 15, the state of Illinois is cutting its $54 million budget for alcohol and drug treatment and prevention services to zero (full disclosure: I wrote the news summary linked to here). That's right: zero. According to providers, that means many of them will shut down. What's left, without state money?