The following is a response to the August 25th
article in the NYT “4 Youth Prisons in New York Used Excessive Force”.
A report made public on August 24th revealed the
extent of forceful authority yielded by juvenile prison workers in 4 of New
York’s youth prisons and “residential centers”. Details of abuse included
“concussions, broken or knocked out teeth, and bone fractures caused by
twisting” for insubordinations ranging in severity from “sneaking an extra
cookie to initiating a fist fight”. One boy even had his collarbone broken when
workers forced him into a sitting position for glaring at a worker.
My aim is not to ignore the truth that many of the youth
found in these institutions are as dangerous as those found in federal
penitentiaries, however the youth found there are still children (legally
speaking), and excessive force in the controlled prison environment must be
recognized as abuse. These prisons claim to prioritize rehabilitation, but
perpetuate the abuse that probably put many of the kids behind bars in the
I understand that workers are often more comfortable using
excessive force rather than risking the potential for the situation to
escalate, but it is inappropriate (to say the least) when such violence as
injuring wrists and elbows is used to restrain a youth for “refusing to stop
laughing when ordered to”.
Clearly, workers need to have contact with inmates, but
there should be more rapid oversight on violations of conduct. The
investigation is a first step toward improvement, but perhaps it would be beneficial
to keep ethical supervisors on staff at these institutions, rather than
conducting investigations after the abuse; this way workers would be held
immediately accountable for any misconduct.