Behind Bars: Rising Trends of Juvenile Incarceration
When the Trump administration entered office earlier this year, the subsequent reports swirled miasmically around tax reform, court appointments, and Russian affiliations. However, in the midst of the storm, one significant rollback has gone overlooked: the administration’s crack-down on juvenile incarceration for drug related crimes. The Obama administration had previously hired Amy Lopez to increase the quality of educational programs within prisons, but Trump fired Lopez in May and initiated a crack down on minor crimes such as drug possession. While this act is seemingly bereft of political repercussions, the societal and cultural effects are worrying.
You see, the social consensus is that prisoners who receive education are more likely to challenge the structural barriers of social mobility and break down oppressive structures such as law enforcement and the school to prison pipeline. Malcolm X and Lateef Islam are dramatic examples of the empowerment education can offer marginalized populations including women of color and non-binary identities.
Prisons are overwhelmingly oppressive for juveniles who face microaggression and instances of violence in everyday life. Prison guards, court systems, and other prisoners are all barriers towards healthy development, both mentally and physically. This psychological environment also spills over to the evident cycles of recidivism for those that leave the prison industrial complex; it is exceedingly difficult for juvenile crime offenders to gain employment, avoid other high-risk behaviour, and stay away from law enforcement. This sparks a spiral of despondency and risky actions that can and must be combated with offering support through teacher-administered prison education. Mentally stimulating young individuals within prisons can spark a desire to generate grass roots change to combat the issues their communities deal with in the first place.
Moreover, the ability for former prisoners and apolitical minorities to access the law has come into question under the Trump administration. The United States makes up just five percent of the world’s people, but 25% of prisoners in the world are currently incarcerated our country. This trend has disproportionately affected youth; more than 95,000 juveniles are currently incarcerated in juvenile facilities, which undercounts those tried and imprisoned as adults. Many of these individuals are children of color, and an overwhelming 85 percent of all juveniles in the court system are functionally illiterate.
By providing prison education to these individuals, we can transform the next generation to breaking down the prison industrial complex as a site of settler colonialism, anti-blackness, and ableism. Such a need to fix a site of oppression has been recognized by people and politicians alike; the correctional aspect of imprisonment must be set aside for a curriculum of growth and expansion. The transpartisan agreement that prison reformation is drastically needed means that off the back of recent Republican and Democrat compromises in DACA and the tax bill, it is prime time to begin questioning whether depriving juvenile crime offenders of education is ethically acceptable.