Children, Mistakes and OPP

Children, Mistakes and OPP: Chief Defender Derwyn Bunton on the all too common practice of kids in adult jail:

Transferring our children to Orleans Parish Prison has become far too commonplace. While years of research prove housing youth in adult facilities is both detrimental to their safety and psychological development, New Orleans lags behind. I began my legal career 16 years ago representing children in brutal facilities. I saw first-hand the physical and emotional scars created by such conditions.

In the 2010 Graham vs. Florida ruling, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy stated, "Juveniles are more capable of change than are adults, and their actions are less likely to be evidence of irretrievably depraved character than are the actions of adults... It would be misguided to equate the failings of a minor with those of an adult, for a greater possibility exists that a minor's character deficiencies will be reformed."

We cannot incarcerate our children in adult facilities and then hope for the best. To the contrary, research indicates locking kids up like adults with adults simply manufactures adult criminals. The average felony case length in Criminal District Court hovers around 140 days, and unfortunately even the briefest of time spent locked away in adult jail can cause irreparable harm to children. Most troubling are the conditions in which children at OPP live; conditions deemed inhumane and unconstitutional even for adults. Jail expert Jeffery Schwartz called OPP, "likely the worst large city jail in the United States."

The recent resolution passed by the City Council is a long overdue step in the right direction. Investing in rehabilitation and education for children provides a much more substantial return and the hope of deterring those most at risk and targeted from a life within the criminal justice system. Until then, we must continue to fight for a fair and just criminal justice system, a system built to help children – not harm them.

Read the original story in The Advocate: Adult Crime, Adult Time: Practice of housing teen offenders in Orleans Parish Prison concerns a parent

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