Nobody of any age should be held in jail without a trial for three years. No child or adolescent should be held in an adult jail. Yet, a 16-year-old accused of stealing a backpack was kept in one of the most violent adult jails in the United States, Rikers Island in New York City, for three years without a trial. This was morally scandalous and inhumane. Even worse, he spent more than two years of that time in solitary confinement, locked up alone except to go to the shower, the recreation area, the visit room or the medical clinic. This was torture. The suicide of 22-year-old Kalief Browder on June 6, barely two years after his release and return home, was the final horror in his tragic and brutal journey into the depths of the adult criminal justice system in New York.
Why are so many girls, especially girls of color, confined in our nation's detention facilities, and what are we as a society going to do about it? We must all work tirelessly to give hope and a fair chance to these girls and all children by promoting policies, programs, and supports that help them and their families, especially those most at risk.
The national holiday celebrating Dr. King's birthday is over, but I hope we will heed and act on his 1967 declaration and work to win the first victory right here at home in the biggest economy on earth and end the shame of 14.7 million children being the poorest Americans by ending child poverty now.
A black boy born in 2001 has a one in three chance of going to prison in his lifetime and a Latino boy a one in six chance of the same fate. The U.S. has the highest incarceration rate in the world: 7.1 million adult residents -- one in 33 -- are under some form of correctional supervision including prison, jail, probation, or parole. Michelle Alexander writes in her bestselling book The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness that there are more adult African Americans under correctional control today than were enslaved in 1850, a decade before the Civil War began. In 2011, our state and federal prison population exceeded that of the top 35 European nations combined. Something's very wrong with this picture.
On June 25th, the U.S. Supreme Court in Miller v. Alabama banned mandatory sentences of life in prison without parole for juveniles. This is a major victory for children and for America and a giant step forward for justice for children. Until this week, America was the only country in the world to routinely condemn children as young as 13 and 14 to die in prison. Now about two thousand people who were sentenced to die in prison as juveniles have hope for a new hearing and a new sentence. While it is disappointing that the Court did not ban the practice outright, we must keep working toward justice for children and end the devastating Cradle to Prison Pipeline crisis that leads to marginalized lives, imprisonment, and premature death.