† Criminal InJustice is a weekly series devoted to taking action against inequities in the U.S. criminal justice system. Nancy A. Heitzeg, Professor of Sociology and Race/Ethnicity, is the Editor of CI. Kay Whitlock, co-author of Queer (In)Justice, is contributing editor of CI. Criminal Injustice is published every Wednesday at 6 pm.
Brutalizing Children Who Were Promised Protection
by nancy a heitzeg
As I type this, University of South Florida researchers are excavating the grounds at the former Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys in Marianna Florida. The school, in operation until 2011, is the site of unmarked burial grounds that may hold over 100 bodies of youth brutalized and killed at Dozier:
An investigation by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement concluded in 2010 that, although it found dozens of graves, there was not enough evidence to pursue criminal charges related to allegations of physical and sexual abuse of boys at the school. The state’s Department of Juvenile Justice closed the school in 2011 as the federal government was investigating allegations of maltreatment and abuse. The federal government ultimately faulted the state for poor oversight and violating the rights of the inmates.
The horrors of the abuse at Dozier had long been exposed by former residents aka The White House Boys. Roger Dean Kiser, author, advocate and survivor of Dozier notes this:
“After having experienced the most horrible two years of my life at a Florida reform school in 1959-1960; I have worked for more than twenty years to expose the horrors that took place at the Florida Industrial School for Boys at Marianna (later known as the Arthur Dozier School). The beatings, the molestations, the rapes, the nightly disappearances and even the murder of young boys are memories that have haunted me for many years. I yelled and screamed for years yet no one would believe me. Now the bodies of young boys are surfacing and the stories are coming to light and now I know for sure that it was not just a child-hood bad dream.”
The torture of Dozier is not an isolated event or an historical artifact of some bygone era. It is now. It is omnipresent. Approximately 26,000 youth are locked up in secure detention on any given day. Some are detained for violations of the law; others are experiencing court-ordered placements for behavioral and emotional issues and/or substance use treatment. The conditions they experience involve the use of restraints – chemical and physical, excessive solitary confinement, and physical and sexual abuse, especially from staff.
Consider Jaime’s story of trauma and abuse while waiting one year for mental health assessment in Illinois. Or Corey - subjected to rape, coerced fighting and solitary confinement. Consider “The Program” at Rikers Island, where guards deputized select teen inmates and pitted them against one another in fights as a way to keep order and extort them for phone, food, and television privileges. Or the “unconstitutional conditions” at the Youth Study Center in New Orleans where detained juveniles were subject to long hours of confinement and offered only sporadic schooling, spotty medical care and inadequate meals.
Consider too, as we will today, the unfolding nightmare of abuse and contempt at the Iowa State Juvenile Home in Toldeo.
Before turning to the specifics of the Iowa Juvenile Home, a word about the history and intent of juvenile justice is in order. Prior to the early 20th century, there was no separate legal system for juveniles in the U.S. Children under age 7 were defined as “infants” and those over 14 as adults. Between 7 and 14 was a gray zone where culpability was determined by the courts. The American system of juvenile justice has its origins in the Progressive Movement of the late 1800′s. The Progressives, a political reform movement comprised early on of rural WASP women, paved the way for several reforms, including probation, parole, anti-trust legislation, prohibition, and the institutional treatment of alcoholism, addiction and poverty. The primary progressive concern, however, was a commitment to child protection. The Progressive motives were surely shaped by fears that industrialization, urbanization, emancipation, and immigration were overtaking the Progressives’ rural, protestant, middle-class way of life. (See Platt, The Child Savers for more on this).
Pressure from the Progressives led to the passage of the three pieces of child protection legislation that form the foundation of our contemporary social and legal view of childhood; child labor laws exempted children from heavy and/or excessive labor. Compulsory education legislation mandated that children attend school until the age of sixteen. And, following the lead of Illinois in 1899, all states created separate juvenile justice systems for those eighteen and under. By the early 1900′s, every state had created a separate legal system for juveniles. State by state variations exist, but all share the same basic structure and philosophy. (For a brief overview of the historical developments in juvenile justice, please see The History of Juvenile Justice from the American Bar Association )
Juvenile justice is grounded in the concept of parens patriae, i.e., “the state is the father.” In cases where the immediate family fails to keep the juvenile out of trouble or jeopardy, the state will assume this role. Juvenile justice will act in place of parents to provide protection or discipline when necessary. Unlike adults who are socially and legally responsible for their own care and actions, children are to be subject to parental supervision. In lieu of this, the state will intervene. (This intervention, as we might expect, has a clear race class and gender bias. For a preliminary discussion of this, see Roberts, “Prison, Foster Care, and the Systemic Punishment of Black Mothers“)
Central to the foundations of juvenile justice is the notion that children, unlike adults, are malleable. They are not yet “hardened criminals,” but delinquents who are capable of reform. Juvenile delinquents should not be punished as adults are; rather, they should be treated. The juvenile justice system, then, is rooted throughout in the rehabilitative ideal. It is the medical model whose influence is felt here. Although it is a formal legal system with analogous stages from arrest to imprisonment, juvenile justice purports to treat, not punish, youthful law violations.
The system was designed to have jurisdiction over both juvenile victims and juvenile offenders. Child protection services deal with juveniles who have been abused or neglected and with juveniles offenders under the age of 7. Juvenile court has jurisdiction over youthful offenders, both those who have committed minor age-related status offenses such truancy and curfew violations as well as more serious offenders who have violated the criminal law.
Juvenile justice has taken a more punitive legalistic turn in recent years – becoming what some call a “second-class criminal court that provides youth with neither therapy or justice.” There are additional efforts to try juveniles as adults and extend juvenile jurisdiction for longer periods for some repeat offenders. Nonetheless, the juvenile justice system has never fully abandoned either its’ rehabilitative ideals or its’ jurisdiction over victims and lesser offenders. Tragically, it is often these juveniles — who have court-ordered placements for treatment – that often are the recipients of abuse and /or isolation.
Such is the case with the Iowa State Juvenile Home.
Isolated, Ridiculed and Forgotten
On the surface, Iowa State Juvenile Home seems like a nice enough place. 3 buildings on 27 acres, 118 employees for up to 57 youth, a nearly 80 year history. Their website makes it seem even better:
The Iowa Juvenile Home/Girls State Training School
The Iowa Juvenile Home/Girls State Training School (IJH/GSTS), recognizing its role in the continuum of statewide delivery, will provide effective intervention for the most troubled youth in the state of Iowa. Staff acts as a positive change agent, providing therapeutic programming, to assist youth in successfully moving to a less structured environment. Building on the strength of families, in collaboration with the support of communities, staff strives to make a difference in the lives of the youth served.
By working in an environment which values teamwork, excellence and respect for one another, staff provide effective services for youth in an effort to successfully reintegrate them into community living.
Clients: The IJH/GSTS at Toledo provides a specialized structured setting to evaluate and treat youth between 12 and 18 years of age, who have been determined by the juvenile justice system to require specialized structured program care, evaluation, and/or treatment due to numerous out-of-home placements, disruptive behavior, and extensive involvement in the system. Males and females who have been adjudicated Children in Need of Assistance by the Iowa court system are admitted to the Iowa Juvenile Home. Females who have been adjudicated Delinquent are admitted to the State Training School for Girls.
Up to 57 children, ages 12 through 17, live and attend school at the home. About 45 of those children — 30 girls and 15 boys — are primarily designated children in need of assistance, which means they are there for treatment and housing, not because they have been in trouble with the law. In addition, there may be about 10 girls who have been judged delinquents due to criminal activity. Many of the children are past victims of abuse — physical, sexual or emotional.
The Iowa Juvenile Home/Girls State Training School
Disability Rights Iowa was also initially impressed during a routine visit in November of 2012. Then they discovered the Control Unit. Three teen girls were locked in the 10 by 12 cells – two of them for 23 hours a day , with no release for school in violation of their education plan. One of them had been kept in isolation for nearly 1 year. The visit triggered an investigation — ( see The Des Moines Register for complelte coverage ) with the following findings/results:
- excessive use of isolation for discipline – students were kept in the Control Unit for months on end - ‘I just sat in that room’ ; ‘It was very depressing’ ; ‘They kept me there for weeks’ ; We ‘beat our heads against the steel door’ (Hear all their stories here )
- excessive use of psychotropic medications as chemical restraints
- denial of educational programing as punishment in violation of standards
- increased reports of abuse and physical altercations between students and staff
- substance-abuse treatment program with 15 citations for current and ongoing violations of minimum standards of care
- the resignation of the school’s principal when a Staff Holiday Party Slide Show revealed ridicule of students and their treatment and even jokes about their imagined deaths:
One set of slides depicted two staffers looking over a list that read, “Fruit loops, nuts, bananas, ding dongs, fruit cake.” One of the workers was shown asking, “Grocery list?” The other employee responded, “No …. Caseload.”
Another slide depicted a skeleton lying in an isolation room, with a caption that said, “Dr. Joan was supposed to assess this youth three days into her suspension. Guess she forgot.”
Another slide showed Gerbo with a skeleton inside the isolation room, saying, “We might need to tweak our out-of-school suspension policy.” (See Full Slide Show here)
The investigation continues as do demands for Governor Terry Branstad to issue an executive order demanding immediate compliance. Unsurprisingly, Branstad has taken this an an opportunity to encourage privatization of the facility.
Who Are We?
For those who think/write/advocate/live through criminal injustice everyday, the horrific treatment and callous attitudes towards those in the system in hardly news. It has come to be the norm for our society’s view of adult prisoners – lock ‘em up, throw away the key, torture, brutality, nothing is bad enough ever. We have seen this ethos lapse over on to juvenile offenders too — demanding life in prison for youthful crimes and even death if the Supreme Court would still allow it.
Even given all that, it is still shocking to see the contemptuous treatment given to those juveniles who are in the system – not because of criminal activities – because of their need for treatment and protection. The very youth that juvenile justice claimed – then and now – that they would save. And while this contempt falls heaviest as always on children of color, especially Black children, no one is immune from it.
Not even blonde white girls from Iowa.
Again, Roger Dean Kiser, author of The White House Boys.
“When boys and or girls are taken away by the state, for whatever reason, and placed in a state care facility they may not have to love them but do have a responsibility to care for and protect those children. At the former Florida Industrial School for Boys at Marianna (Dozier School) many boys’ lives were destroyed as were many of the lives of their families and children in later years. Had any parent treated their children in the manner the state treated us they would have been sent to prison for years. The state took on that responsibility not by choice but by court order and to have allowed boys to be beaten bloody, molested, raped and killed is something they should be held responsible and accountable for just as would have our own parents.”
Special thanks to co-founder and contributing editor Kay Whitlock for the background information on the Iowa Juvenile Home and for alerting CI to the story. Thanks too to Prison Culture for the link to Jaime’s story and the outstanding guest post by Frank Edwards, ‘Child Welfare,’ Racial Disparity and the PIC, that is linked in this piece.