Juvenile (In)Justice

September 17, 2017

They Call Us Monsters. It’s a documentary about juvenile offenders and it’s shocking, to say the very least. How have we failed these young people so miserably? Why is society so willing to lock them up and throw away the key? 

The film looks at the lives of several young boys who are in the process of being convicted and sentenced to very long sentences in adult prisons. (One of the young men is sentenced to 162 years in prison.) It’s so heartbreaking because we see them as young boys laughing and kidding around in a juvenile setting. They don’t seem capable of what they’ve been accused of, but there it is. 

The film also details the boys as they attend a class on screenwriting. Kudos to the screenwriting teacher who volunteers his time once a week to work with these boys. He isn’t getting paid, and they aren’t the easiest crowd to work with at times. But, they excel at it, they love it, and it gives them a creative outlet. As the teacher says – what else have the got to do for the next 25 years? 

In California, we recently passed a law that gives juvenile offenders the opportunity for parole after 25 years served. That’s still an insanely long time, but at least it’s an opportunity that other states don’t provide. What isn’t show in the film is what happens next in prison for these young men? Are they given the opportunity for work and educational opportunities while serving their time? Are they given a way to serve the public and their victims’ families or are they just stuck staring at a wall all day? Do we (taxpayers) provide them with psychological and drug counseling? 

It’s really tough to watch the families of these offenders because they all seem so “normal.” Many of them are living in poverty, and they are living in areas with high gang-activity. (That’s how most of them end up in the life they lead.) But, is it a family’s “fault” that they can’t afford a better neighborhood or opportunities for their families? Why are these violent gangs allowed to operate in some neighborhoods, when the rest of us live predominantly free from violent crimes? 

The “justice” system is corrupt. I don’t have all the answers – but locking up teenagers for life certainly isn’t the answer. I have been fighting this fight for quite some time and I will continue to do so. Justice isn’t justice in this country.

Zechariah 7:9 (NRSV): Thus says the Lord of hosts: Render true judgments, show kindness and mercy to one another;

Serve all with love.

Photo courtesy of: stocksnap.io

 

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