[Fwd: SK-L: USA news]

Graeme Bacque (gbacque@idirect.com)
Wed, 18 Nov 1998 01:55:08 -0500


-------- Original Message --------
Subject: SK-L: USA news
Date: Tue, 17 Nov 1998 23:06:50 -0600 (CST)
From: Rick Halperin <rhalperi@post.cis.smu.edu>
Reply-To: streetkid-l@jbu.edu
To: Streetkid <STREETKID-L@jbu.edu>

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Streetkid-L: Promoting awareness of the plight of street children
and other children at risk worldwide. Your participation is welcome.
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                                                     News Service:
219/98
AI INDEX: AMR 51/92/98
18 NOVEMBER 1998

USA: Betraying the Young -- Children in the US Justice System

'Each Sunday I visit my son, but it is not only his pain and 
helplessness I see.  I overhear horrible stories of the past week's 
violence as the children try to explain fresh cuts and bruises to their
parents.' (Mother of a boy at a juvenile correctional facility in Maine,
USA. 1998)

Thousands of children in the USA accused or convicted of criminal
offenses are subjected to human rights abuses ranging from brutal 
physical force, lengthy periods in solitary confinement and long
periods  in jail before trial, to imprisonment with adults, a new
Amnesty  International report states.

According to the report, many children are incarcerated for very minor
offenses when other action could or should have been taken.

a 10 year-old-boy handcuffed, arrested and locked up for allegedly
kicking his mother;

a 13 year-old-girl detained on suspicion of possessing marijuana, which
turned out to be oregano,

a 16 year-old-girl detained for transgressing her father's rules
(throwing objects in her room and not attending school);

an 12 year-old-boy detained for making a harassing telephone call.

In some jurisdictions, incarceration is regarded as an appropriate
punishment for even minor infringements of the law by very young 
children, such as fighting in school.

Excessive use of incarceration is a matter of grave concern because of
its inherent risks to the physical and mental integrity of children,
and  its potential for negative influence rather than rehabilitation. 
The 
harm that children suffer as a consequence of incarceration may be 
permanent.

>From the end of the last century, the USA was a world leader in the
development of a legal system specifically for children, with a mandate 
to promote their welfare.  Today, however, even within the juvenile 
justice system children's well-being is often placed at risk rather
than  being protected.

Many custodial facilities for children in the USA are overcrowded and
unable to provide adequate mental health and other important services.
In  recent years, there have been many reports that staff in juvenile 
facilities have punched, kicked, shackled, sprayed with chemicals and 
even used electro-shock devices against children in their care.  An 
increasing number of children are being prosecuted as adults, often for 
non-violent offenses. Once in the adult criminal justice system they
may  be held for months in jail before they are tried, and they are
often  denied access to education, exercise and other programs.

Over four thousand children are in adult prisons where they are 
notoriously at risk of physical and sexual abuse, as well as the 
corrupting influence of people with long criminal histories.

And at every stage of the justice system, racial and ethnic minority
children are present in numbers greatly out of proportion to their 
numbers in the community.  'The evidence strongly indicates that one 
reason for this is discrimination on the part of law enforcement and 
justice system personnel,' Amnesty International said.

The most disturbing aspect is that a number of the violations are
actually sanctioned by US laws. In particular, the US executes people
for  crimes they committed when they were children, in flagrant
violation of 
international standards.

Three such prisoners - all of them borderline mentally retarded - have
been executed in the USA in 1998.  Amnesty International knows of no 
other such executions anywhere else in the world during the year.

The USA has executed nine juvenile offenders since 1990, half the known
world total in the same period.  The other nine executions were  carried
out in five countries -- Iran, Nigeria, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia  and
Yemen. Over 70 prisoners remain on death row in the USA for crimes 
committed when they were 16 or 17 years old.

The USA has consistently refused to implement fully the protection of
the human rights of children provided by international law.

'Children in the USA should be no less entitled to this protection than
children of countries around the world,' Amnesty International 
stressed.  'We urge the US federal government to ratify without 
reservations all international standards for the protection of
children.'

'We also call on all US authorities to ensure that their laws, policies
and practices are fully consistent with these standards,'  Amnesty
International said.

Definition of who is a 'child'

Under international and national laws, 18 is the most common age below
which special protection is deemed to be necessary and desirable for 
people accused or convicted of violating criminal laws.  All 
international standards related to the death penalty define a child as
someone under 18 years of age.

(source:  Amnesty International)


Rick Halperin
Amnesty International
Dallas, Texas


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