Grace Bauer had her entire world turned upside down when her son entered one of the nation’s harshest juvenile justice systems. Fueled by a burning desire to alter the system, she soon became one of the nation’s most impassioned crusaders for sweeping juvenile justice reform. Editor Note: This story is a continuation of the series Mental Health and the Juvenile Justice System: Progress, Problems and Paradoxes. Readers may also be interested in visiting the Juvenile Justice Resource HUB for more information about mental health and the juvenile justice system. —
The death of Grace Bauer’s mother in 1998 triggered a cycle of grief that fully consumed her life for the better part of 15 years. “It became the mark we would measure time by,” she said. The pain, she said, was especially severe for her eldest child, Corey, who was 11 when his grandmother died.
In 2001, my 13-year-old son, Corey, was sent to what the New York Times called “the worst juvenile prison in the country.”
What crime had he committed that earned him this hellish journey to the Tallulah Correctional Center for Youth in Louisiana? He stole a $300 stereo out of pick up after he smashed out the window with a crowbar. His sentence was five years in one of the most brutal facilities in the United States. The families of children who are system involved are often thought of as lazy, uneducated, uncaring or worse. But a new report by Justice for Families (J4F) gives us a much different picture of families and relies on substantial data rather than outdated myths and stereotypes.
Jeannette Bocanegra, a community organizer from New York City, told a gathering of juvenile justice system practitioners and advocates in Houston last week that as a mom with a child who was incarcerated, “This system made me feel like I was a dysfunctional parent, a bad parent … without realizing I raised six other children who never went into the system.”
Now she and other members of Justice for Families, an advocacy group, are out to prove that, in her words, “We are not dysfunctional … the system is dysfunctional.”
Liane Rozzell, another parent on the panel, said afterwards, “We don’t have 24-hour remote control over our children.”
During the panel discussion, Rozzell said when her son was first put into detention she thought it might be a good thing, it would teach him a lesson. But she did not realize how negatively he would be affected by the experience. She also recalled being in a meeting where a teacher from a correctional institution off handedly mentioned sending kids to “an inherently violent place like a juvenile correctional center.”
After hearing that phrase, Rozzell said, “I was just stunned that we can just casually talk about sending our children to an inherently violent place.”
In June, Justice for Families will be releasing an in-depth report, underwritten by the Annie E. Casey Foundation. The report includes results of a survey of 1,000 family members who have had children incarcerated and examines how families of the incarcerated are portrayed by the media. Justice for Families co-director Grace Bauer says family involvement and networking is necessary because, “No one knows what it is like to struggle with a child in the system better than another parent.”
However, according to Bauer, early findings from the report reveal, “Families are not consulted.