Jun 18 2014

Burning Down the House: The End of Juvenile Prison

A seventeen year old named Terrance Lamont Cheeks was sentenced to 50 years in prison this week in an Iowa courtroom for his role in a carjacking that left one man with permanent brain damage. Cheeks, who is African American, has been in and out of juvenile prisons and facilities for years and was one of three teens involved in the carjacking. The sentencing judge did however, waive the mandatory minimum sentencing requirement based on his age, which means he is likely to not have to serve a majority of the draconian sentence.

Cheeks’ story is not out of the ordinary in a country that locks up more young people at a greater rate than any other industrialized nation. We spend hundreds of millions on locking up minors, far more than we do on educating youth. We send black and brown kids to prison far more often for the same infractions as white kids. And, we ensure that imprisoned youth are far more likely to end up back in prison than if they were never arrested. How did it get this way?

Nell Bernstein who has spent years in intimate contact with the juvenile prison system and many of its inhabitants, has written a definitive book about the barbaric American practice of youth incarceration, called Burning Down the House: The End of Juvenile Prison.

GUEST: Nell Bernstein is a former Soros Justice Media Fellow in New York, winner of a White House Champion of Change award. Her articles have appeared in Newsday, Salon, Mother Jones, and the Washington Post. Her earlier book All Alone in the World: Children of the Incarcerated was a Newsweek “Book of the Week.”

Click here for the book’s Facebook page.

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