History and Present of Juvenile Incarceration

Juvenile incarceration has been an issue that has plagued the United States for decades. Frankly, the justice system has not treated juvenile offenders in the more productive ways possible. These juveniles have been sent off the mental institutions or even put into solitary confinement for their wrong-doings. It has the potential of cutting them off from ever being able to move forward in their lives after serving their sentence, whether that be academically, career related, socially, etc.

Has it always been like this for juveniles? In learning more about juvenile justice from the Center of Juvenile and Criminal Justice website, I’ve found that the justice system really doesn’t know how to properly work with juvenile offenders. Back in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, courts were putting juvenile offenders “with hardened adult criminals and the mentally ill in large overcrowded and decrepit penal institutions.” What makes this even worse is that more often than not, these juveniles were committing non-violent offenses. But since the court system didn’t know what to do with the juvenile offenders, they were merely grouped with the mentally ill or violent adults.

The New York House of Refuge was finally established in 1825 as a place for “poor, destitute and vagrant youth who were deemed by authorities to be on the path towards delinquency.” This institution eventually became the juvenile justice system as it opened more institutions just like it in major cities across the United States. These houses, however, ran into problems in the 19th century involving “overcrowding, deteriorating conditions, and staff abuse.”  Reform schools were then created to create more routine and regimented lifestyles for juvenile offenders and delinquents, as well as honing in on education. These types of schools are still around today and known as “youth correctional institutions.”

It wasn’t until the late 19th century (1899) that juveniles were finally being tried in the juvenile court system, rather than being grouped with the adults. The Center of Juvenile and Criminal Justice website gives an insight on what the juvenile court system’s mission is:

“The primary motive of the juvenile court was to provide rehabilitation and protective supervision for youth. The court was intended to be a place where the child would receive individualized attention from a concerned judge. Court hearings were informal and judges exercised broad discretion on how each case was handled.”

When the 1960s rolled around, there was a lot of discussion on how these juveniles were being tried. Apparently. the sentences were too reliant on the judges and their moods/personal beliefs while they were sentencing.  The Supreme Court made the process of juvenile sentencing more formal in the 1960s. For example, “formal hearings were required in situations where youth faced transfer to adult court and or a period of long-term institutional confinement.” Some people thought that by time the 1980s came, the court system was still going too easy on juvenile offenders. By this time, a lot of states were passing laws like establishing “mandatory sentences and automatic adult court transfer for certain crimes.”  

The 1990s saw an increase in a lot of juvenile crimes being harshly charged in the actual criminal justice system, even for juveniles with minor offenses. Just like the early 19th century, these institutions were getting overcrowded, the conditions were filthy, and it housed too mixed of a group. This is also when solitary confinement came into play. The American Psychological Association (APA) explains that “Every year, thousands of prisoners under the age of 18 are placed in solitary confinement.” The effects that solitary confinement has on the incarcerated, especially incarcerated youth, is massive. The consequences of juvenile solitary confinement are associated with “serious consequences for mental and physical health.”  These juveniles can be restricted from seeing their doctors, denied educated, and gain a lack of social understanding. These are lifelong consequences, even for those in the juvenile justice system who have not committed violent and terribly serious crimes. The APA and other organizations are working to put an end to solitary confinement and finding more productive ways of disciplining in the juvenile justice system.

The late 1990s finally saw a reduced number of juvenile incarceration. At the beginning of the 21st century, many states began reforming their own juvenile justice systems. California, for example, signed Senate Bill 81 in 2007 which “ushered in a new era of juvenile justice policy by limiting the types of offenders who could be committed to state youth correctional institutions and by providing funding to county probation systems to improve their capacity to handle higher end offenders.” As a result, California has seen a “further decline in institutional commitments and spurred the development of innovative programs at the county level.”

The juvenile justice system is progressing but still has such a long way to come. There are still many atrocities that we see, such as solitary confinement, that are plaguing our nation. With more attention to the subject of juvenile incarceration, we can continue to build reform in all states.





History and Present of Climate Change

Climate change has been happening since the early 1800s and not enough has been done to regulate how much of these toxic gases we release. In the early 19th century, climate change was first suspected and the greenhouse effect was first identified. Scientists formed different opinions and argued about what could be changing the climate. The human population began to grow excessively and reached 3 billion by 1960. In 1965, the US President’s Advisory Committee made a warning that the greenhouse effect was something that they should be concerned about and should start to take action. By creating awareness and spreading concern for the world, the first Earth Day was announced in 1970. Founder, Gaylord Nelson, came up with the idea after witnessing a massive oil spill in Santa Barbara, California in 1969. Nelson planned for it to be a national day to focus on the environment.  Millions of Americans gathered on April 22, 1970, to demonstrate sustainable living and to fight against pollution and many other factors that affect the environment. There was a huge boost to recycling efforts worldwide because people from all different backgrounds supported this movement. Earth day is celebrated by billions of people every year and is a reminder that we should treat every day like Earth day. Many people come together on this day and do some sort of “clean up.” This encourages people to get involved and spread the word about what they are doing to help make the world in which they live a better place. For a list of the key milestones of climate change, click here.

The scary truth about this topic is that past disasters are still having profound effects on the environment today. Things like oil spills, gas leaks, and volcanic eruptions do not just go away. They are putting chemicals into the air and are affecting the water systems. People are having nutrition problems and getting infectious diseases from crop failures. The sudden changes in the climate are forcing people to relocate so that they can live in a place where they will have more secure food supplies. Since the 1960s, weather-related natural disasters have more than tripled worldwide. These disasters result in thousands of deaths, mainly in developing countries. Changes in agriculture and instability from severe weather events have lead people to job and economic insecurity. When these climate-related disasters occur, lower-income communities are more-likely to be affected. These communities are the least able to respond to and recover from these environmental hazards. As climate change increases, these communities have less potential for prosperity.

Today, the global climate crisis may be one of the most detrimental moral issues of the 21st century. There are profound effects on social justice and human rights, especially on poor people and low income countries. According to Science Direct, “these consequences threaten rights embodied in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, such as the right to security and the right to a standard of living adequate for health and well-being, including food, clothing, housing, medical care, and necessary social services. They threaten civil and political rights, such as “the inherent right to life” and rights related to culture, religion, and language, as embodied in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. They threaten economic, social, and cultural rights, as embodied in the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural rights.” It is up to the National Government to ensure that humans are protected and safe on the soil in which they live. The impacts of climate change are uneven across each country and have more effects on the world than people realize. So many of the countries most affected by climate change are the least capable of adapting to it. 

If more people take action and are educated on this social justice issue, it can be a catalyst for positive social change. It has the chance to create more equality across society and to advance human rights.  Taking action has the potential to make the world a much fairer place. Climate change is a serious issue that could have profound effects on our future. It is expected to become increasingly disruptive throughout this century and beyond. In order to make sure that generations to come will live in a safe environment, we must spread awareness and take action now.

A Brief Look At Immigration Reform Throughout Our History

America is often referred to the melting pot, a home for people all around the world to come to, bringing with them their diverse cultures, foods, ethnicity, and religions. These people are immigrants who come to America seeking new opportunities in a country that stands for freedom and equality for all. Immigrants are the backbone of America. Immigration helps define the ideals and beliefs of American democracy. When we think of immigration images of Ellis Island, New York City, and lady liberty come into our minds. America holds a patriotic ideal of that anyone who works hard enough can have a chance for success. In the minds of many early generation immigrants, the United States was a place where they could build themselves and have ample opportunity to change their lives for the better.

In the early 18th and 19th centuries the United States encouraged free and open immigration, whereas today immigration reform and policy is constantly debated. Both sides of the arguments, for and against immigration are polarized, and often the resolutions to some of these debates are at the expensive of immigrants and their family’s well being. It is imperative that our government and some of its citizens are reminded about the importance of immigration in welcoming diversity and equality for all people.

It began in the 1700s when state governments were allowed to set rules and regulation dictating immigration policies. The Naturalization Act of 1790 took away the power of the state governments and gave the federal government power to grant citizenship to immigrants. But only after they have lived in America for “at least two years, provided they were free white persons of good character.” (U.S. news article “A History of Immigration Reform”) Following the naturalization act was, the Alien and Sedition Act of 1798 put in affect by President John Adams. It made it increasingly difficult for immigrants to vote and also elected new powers for government officials to deport immigrants. This act would be later over turned with the Refugee Act passed in 1980. But it was only until the 1960s when President Johnson passes the Naturalization Act of 1965 that completely abolished the earlier quota system, which was based on national origin. President Johnson instead established a policy that attracted families and skilled labor to the U.S. This act in 1965 greatly changed the demographic makeup of America’s population.

Prior to the 1960s and on, more that half off all immigrants were of European descent. But by the 1990s, “only 16% of Immigrants were European, and 31% were of Asian descent, while the percentages of Latino and African immigrants had also jumped significantly.” In the years 1965 to 2000, the highest number of immigrants came from Mexico, about 4.3 million people.

The Immigration Reform Act in 1986 was the U.S. governments attempt to address issues within immigration policy by creating better enforcement and creating more possibilities for people to seek legal immigration. The act granted citizenship to more than 3 million illegal immigrants with the help of amnesty programs.

Immigration policy was drastically changed after the events of 9/11. The Homeland Security Act of 2002 created the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), which handled many immigration services. The DHS enforced the rules and functions that were previously held by the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS).

As of today immigration is much more complicated, and individuals chance at legal citizenship is a long and difficult process. A non-citizen entering the United States (lawfully) can either receive a temporary non-immigrant admission or permanent immigrant admission. A lawful permanent resident is given a green card, which grants them the ability to work in the United States and eventually apply for a citizenship. The process to obtain a legal and full citizenship takes up to 6 months to a year. Immigrants must first have a green card, and then go through an interview, paper work, and a pass a test to receive full citizenship.

Barack Obama Presidency gave hope to many young illegal immigrants, who found the system for getting full citizenship unfair, and sometimes unattainable for their situation. In 2012 Obama launched the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. This policy gave nearly 2 million undocumented immigrants visas for either school or work. This policy was aimed at young undocumented immigrants who came to the U.S. illegally with the parents or whose parents are illegal immigrants and had children while in the U.S.

The DACA program is still in effect today, but with our new President stricter and more conservative immigration policies are being debated in congress. It is unclear how and when the issues about immigration reform will be resoled, especially in a very divided congress.

By: Anna

History and Present of Mass Incarceration

Mass incarceration is a deep issue that takes root in the racial politics of the post-Civil Rights era with roots extending deep into America’s ugly past of racism and racial injustice through slavery.

Most of what sparked my interest in the issue of mass incarceration has been Michelle Alexander’s 2010 book The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness. The book details Alexander’s perspective and study of the racial underpinnings of mass incarceration as a black civil rights lawyer, professor, and researcher with specializations in race and its relationship with criminal justice. Many of the ideas and concepts I talk about here are not my own ideas but summaries of what Alexander and those that agree with her have presented.

It is commonly known that America in 1960 was a place of incredible change. The upheaval of a system of racial oppression was taking place, culminating in the decision that separate is not equal in Brown v. Board of Education (a few years prior, in 1954), the creation of the 23rd and 24th Amendments that took away laws that discriminated against people of color at the polls, and countless violent and non-violent protests around the country that centered around civil rights for black Americans. For Alexander, this is where many of today’s “colorblind” people mistakenly see America as a country freed from racism and a racially oppressive system of government. Alexander argues that after the Civil Rights Movement of the 60’s, the still segregationist parts of government began looking to crime rates as proof that desegregation was a bad idea. As the 60’s and early 70’s progressed, some legislators used “racially sanitized language of ‘cracking down on crime’ – rhetoric that is now used freely by politicians of every stripe.” This kind of rhetoric met with strong response from “poor and working-class Whites, particularly in the South, who were opposed to integration”. In the 70’s, President Richard Nixon furthered the use of anti-crime rhetoric to garner support from those who thought that blacks and whites were unequal. President Nixon called for a “war on drugs,” a new politically targeted group of criminals. Nixon’s political successor was President Ronald Reagan who, according to Alexander, “built upon the success of earlier conservatives who developed a strategy of exploiting racial hostility or resentment for political gain without making explicit reference to race.” In other words, conservatives were using crime to leverage the support the racially hostile by painting black people in America as criminals that needed locked up. Specifically, President Reagan went about doing this with his declared War on Drugs in 1982, which geared towards targeting and imprisoning the predominantly black users of crack cocaine after crack hit the streets in 1985. This anti-crime rhetoric was used through the early 90’s with President Bill Clinton and his “Three Strikes” legislature, giving any third-time offender of a crime a life sentence in prison. All this time, anti-crime messages from political candidates and officers were meant to capitalize on the racial hostility of poor and working-class whites.

According to theUnited States Bureau of Justice, 1 of every 37 Americans, or 2.7%, were on probation/parole or incarcerated as of 2015. According to statistics from the Federal Bureau of Prisons and the United States Census Bureau, black people are incarcerated at a rate almost 4 times higher than white people. The reason for this gap is explained by Michelle Alexander. It is no accident or coincidence that black people are incarcerated more than white people, it is a deliberate act by the United States government in anti-crime rhetoric and strict legislature that is the reason for the disparity.

This issue is not going unnoticed. President Barack Obama released a video accompanied by different infographics that stated his intention to address mass incarceration. Several nonprofits, such as the Equal Justice Initiative and BRIDGE from Voices for Racial Justice, and existing agencies that seek racial justice, like the ACLU and NAACP, have been working to fight mass incarceration and unfair legislature. A slew of news articles from prominent outlets (The Washington Post, The New York Times, The Nation, The Atlantic just to name a few) have been released noticing and advocating for the end of mass incarceration Black popular culture has been calling mass incarceration problem in the recent past. Black filmmaker Ava DuVernay’s film 13th asserts that mass incarceration is an extension of pre-Civil War slavery in America. It features rapper Common, keyboardist Robert Glasper, and drummer/DJ Karriem Riggins’ track “Letter to the Free,” a hip-hop, R&B, and jazz fusion take on incarceration from the perspective of black prisoners delivered with a tone of frustration and numerous references to civil rights, slavery, and ideas presented in The New Jim Crow (“Not whips and chains, all subliminal/Instead of ‘nigga’ they use the word ‘criminal’”).

Mass incarceration is a serious problem in America. It is not a new issue, but it has gained some attention recently, largely in part to Michelle Alexander’s work. It is a problem that represents the existence of institutional racial oppression and needs to be ended by changing current legislature regarding crime and sentencing.