New York and North Carolina are the only two states in the US that prosecute sixteen and seventeen year old teenagers in the justice system as adults. This is a crucial issue because in other states these teens are sent to juvenile facilities where they are held in more appropriate environments, given their ages. Young teens in adult prisons are often forced into solitary confinement, which can be severely, psychologically and physically damaging.
Serena Ligouri, associate director of Herstory Writers Workshop claims, “There are no benefits to putting kids in adult prisons.” There are many challenges and negative consequences of allowing teens to be prosecuted in adult prisons. Lewis and Rao-Herel’s article focuses on a young girl, Angelique Wadlington, who was arrested in N ew York for possession at the age of seventeen. She had previously been arrested for fighting, but this time she was not going to be sent to juvenile hall. Istead she was be convicted as an adult and sent to prison. She was surprised and upset when she learned that she would be spending the next two years in adult jail.
In adult prisons, inmates that are seventeen years or younger are confined separately from older prisoners in order to prevent sexual assault. Unfortunately this often means teen prisoners are held in solitary confinement. This causes harm to the young girls and can be psychologically damaging. Teens often experience anxiety, suicidal thoughts, and other negative consequences.
Corporate news coverage of the negative consequences of solitary confinement for teen prisoners has been limited primarily to opinion pieces by Ian M. Kysel, a law professor at Georgetown, including one published by the New York Times in December 2014 and one in the Washington Post from June 2015.
Crystal Lewis with Anjali Rao-Herel, “New York Teens Often Isolated in Adult Prisons,” Women’s E News, September 21, 2015, http://womensenews.org/story/teen-voices/150920/new-york-teens-often-isolated-in-adult-prisons.
Dana Liebelson, “This is What Happens When We Lock Children in Solitary Confinement,” Mother Jones, January/February 2015, http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2014/01/juveniles-kids-solitary-confinement-ohio-new-york.
Student Researcher: Mackenzie Mexico (Sonoma State University)
Faculty Evaluator: Elaine Wellin (Sonoma State University)