She approached me at lunch during the Justice for Juveniles Conference on April 24 with tears in her eyes and asked if she could gather the handouts that would be distributed in the afternoon sessions because she was unable to stay. She and her husband had to leave to catch a bus to visit their son, the youngest of six children, at Spofford (recently renamed Bridges) Juvenile Center in the Bronx.
All morning she had listened to speakers recounting the atrocities committed in youth detention centers – staff responding to minor incidents with excessive force, resulting in serious injuries to inmates – and now she was on her way to the worst of these.
All morning she heard about the financial and human waste in the juvenile justice system – $240,000 per incarcerated child per year with a recidivism rate of 89 percent while funds to keep youth out of detention are being slashed – and now she wept for her son’s future.
All morning she was confronted with blatant racism – African-Americans and Latinos make up than less a third of the city’s youth population and more than 90 percent of its confined youth – and now she was thanking me, a white woman of privilege, for hosting an event that gave her only a glimmer of hope.
I wondered how she could be so gracious. Throughout the process of preparing for this conference, I experienced persistent outrage born out of moral incredulity. Professionals in the field have long been aware of the violations to children’s rights endemic to the juvenile justice system. If no longer outraged, they were also not hardened, and seemed relieved to share the burden of their knowledge with others. Perhaps there was hope, after all, if so many people came to spend a Saturday together to find a better way to serve our children in trouble.
We will meet again, this coalition of individuals and organizations, on Wednesday, July 21, at the NY Society to delve deeper into the problems that beset this broken system and to target our efforts in support of alternatives to incarceration, programs to keep at-risk youth engaged in creative activities, and protection for youth in detention centers. Join us and bring others with you. Be prepared to take a stand and make a difference.
You can start now by signing a petition at http://www.petitiononline.com/215K4BED to close Spofford. If the city’s community-based alternatives to detention were used correctly, the city would not need to operate three juvenile detention complexes. It is time for the city to honor its longstanding commitment to close this troubled youth jail and consolidate its secure detention population within the two new facilities—Horizons and Crossroads.
My work moving forward now has someone to inspire it – a gracious woman who loves her son and wants him back home with his family.