Growing up Behind Bars: Q&A with Yusef Salaam

Yusef Salaam was one of the five teenagers falsely convicted in the brutal rape of a white woman in Central Park in 1989. The convictions were overturned in 2002, when a serial rapist confessed to the crime, but Salaam had already served his full 5½-year term in prison. Recently, I had the opportunity to interview Salaam about his experience and the impact it had on his life. In person, Salaam carries a dignified, purposeful, and positive aura. He seems to be using his situation as an opportunity to help youth by sharing his message with them.

Roster of Exonerations Shows the Particular Vulnerability of Juveniles Under Questioning

Carl Williams was 17 years old when Cook County police arrested him in January of 1994. Williams was charged with two counts of murder and one count of sexual assault. He confessed to the crime after a police interrogation and along with four co-defendants, Williams was sentenced to life imprisonment without parole in 1996. Now, 18 years later, Williams, who claims he is innocent, has been granted an evidentiary hearing and a re-sentencing by the 1st District Appellate Court of Illinois. “The case of the wrong Carl” is a prime example of change in the way Illinois judges view confessions, said Steven Drizin, director of the Center on Wrongful Convictions – and co-founder of the Center on Wrong Convictions of Youth - at the Northwestern University School of Law. The Cook County justice system interrogates its juveniles as they do its adults.  And the center is quite certain that of the 100-plus juveniles currently serving life without parole sentences in the state, many of their convictions were based on false confessions.

What We’re Here For: The Role and Purpose of Juvenile Detention in the 21st Century

Across the nation, perspectives on juvenile detention are changing. Several experts share how they believe modern juvenile justice is implementing more rehabilitative models and what the ultimate dividends may be for both young people and U.S. society as a whole
Mike Rollins, executive director of Coosa Valley Youth Services (CVYS) in Anniston, Ala., has been at the facility for more than 30 years. His experiences, however, aren’t just limited to working there. At 17, Rollins walked into CVYS for the first time. “I was engaged in drug use,” Rollins said.

Prison Photography: A Memory Divided

This month, Youth Today features an essay by Prison Photography writer and editor Pete Brook. Brook highlights three photographers and their work, each focused on incarcerated young people from different detention centers across the country. Youth Today, a publication dedicated to providing juvenile justice stories as well as stories on other youth related issues, features the entire photo spread in its January print edition. Read an excerpt of the piece below: 

Hundreds of thousands of people see inside the places and spaces where we lock up young members of our society. On any given day, more than 60,000 children in the United States are behind bars.

Georgia DJJ Boss: Recent Firings at Troubled YDC are Only the Beginning

Two employees were ousted last week at Georgia’s troubled Augusta Youth Development Campus (YDC), and the state’s Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) Commissioner, Avery D. Niles, promised executive-level dismissals would follow. “There have been many personnel changes at Augusta YDC over the previous year and I can promise you, I’ll be making more,” Niles said in a DJJ press release. In 2011, the YDC gained national prominence after a youth in custody, 19-year-old Jade Holder, died following a fight with another inmate. It was the first ever homicide inside a Georgia YDC, according to a state DJJ spokesperson. A subsequent investigation of the death found that the detention facility’s cell doors were not locked at the time of the fight, Augusta’s News Channel 6 reported.

Photo by Ryan Schill, Center for Sustainable Journalism

DOJ, State Officials Agree to Overhaul of Memphis-area Juvenile Justice System

On Monday, the United States Department of Justice (DOJ) and officials in Memphis, Tenn. entered into an agreement  to overhaul the juvenile justice system within Shelby County, long plagued by reports of detainee mistreatment and systemic oversights. An investigative report released by the DOJ’s Civil Rights Division earlier this year found numerous due process violations within the Juvenile Court of Memphis and Shelby County (JCMSC), with officials unable to provide timely probable cause hearings or required transfer hearings for young detainees. The report also found that JCMSC personnel were holding young people in restraints for much longer than allowed under its own policy, with some detainees held in restraint chairs for five times the facility’s “maximum” duration of 20 minutes. The memorandum of agreement (MOA) signed by the DOJ and JCMSC will revise the county’s current juvenile justice policies, with JCMSC officials agreeing to adhere to constitutionally backed due process and equal protection protocols.

Groups Urge Federal, State Legislation to End Solitary Confinement of Young People

Recently, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and Human Rights Watch published  a new report titled “Growing Up Locked Down: Youth in Solitary Confinement in Jails and Prisons Across the United States.”

The publication involved interviews with more than 125 juveniles in 19 states, alongside detention officials in 10 states. The authors of the report argue that solitary confinement harms young people mentally and physically, with juveniles frequently denied access to medical, rehabilitative and psychological treatments and services while in confinement. Furthermore, the report alleges that in jails and prisons across the United States, young people are routinely subjected to extensive stays in solitary confinement -- in some cases, for weeks and even months at a time. “Solitary confinement of adolescents is unnecessary,” the report reads. “There are alternative ways to address the problems -- whether disciplinary, administrative, protective or medical -- which officials typically cite as justifications for solitary confinement.”

The authors of the report state that approximately one third of the young people they interviewed reported being held in solitary confinement for one to six months before turning 18.

Georgia Council Calls for New System for Young Offenders

A blue-ribbon panel in Georgia says the state should keep most misdemeanor offenders out of juvenile hall, and provide cash incentives for communities to channel kids away from custody and into programs that will divert them from further crime. That’s the unanimous vote of the Georgia Special Council on Criminal Justice Reform, after months of study and research assistance from the Pew Center on the States. “We have rethought what works to help that juvenile” who comes in contact with the criminal justice system, said state Court of Appeals Judge Mike Boggs, chair of the Council. “We want to try to incentivize communities to build evidence-based options in their communities. That works better at reducing recidivism than commitment to a secure facility,” Boggs said.