How the ‘Cycle’ Led to a 16-Year-Old’s Death in Detention

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Photo by Elentir via Flickr

Failure to stop the “cycle” of inappropriate treatment from the misuse of school resource officers  to inadequate care in detention eventually led to the death of a Wisconsin teenager in a youth detention facility in 2017, according to the  Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

The newspaper investigated the death of Maricella Chairez, a 16-year-old who died while she was in detention at  the Racine County Juvenile Detention Center in Racine, WI.,

Her death pointed up what the newspaper said were consistent failures of care.

According to the newspaper, 27,635 children across the United States were in youth jails or prisons in 2017.

While the number of youth in prison for misdemeanor charges has decreased in the past 10 years, it is still a historical high compared to youth incarceration rates for misdemeanor charges.

Use of School Resource Officers (SRO) in schools are thought to be a large contributor to perpetuating the cycle.

Advocates of SROs claim that because they’re uniformed official police officers, they come prepared for any type of threat of violence possible. This is thought to be especially important in America, where a long history of school shootings causes worry about children’s safety in schools.

Many argue that their presence isn’t needed in schools, and have proven to be unhelpful even in times of danger. An NPR article noted that SROs can create “unintended consequences like suspensions, expulsions and arrests — especially for students of color.”

According to the Journal, there can be upsides to SROs in schools, but they often escalate a situation beyond what it should be, and that mental health specialists or social workers might be a better fit for a school setting.

This is especially important since students who suffer from mental health issues are also more than twice as likely to be arrested than other students.

Rory Linnane, the author of the article,  also called for a decreased reliance on jails for youth.

While youth have a better chance than adults to be relocated in a specialized rehabilitative program, they can still end up waiting in jail until a social worker can find a place to relocate them to.

In fact, Linnane reports that 40 percent of incarcerated youth were being held awaiting trial in 2017.

This means that these students, who are already more likely to be suffering from mental health issues, end up in facilities that don’t provide them with the support they need.

Reforms within youth jails and prisons are also vital, including getting rid of bunk beds that allow for suicide attempts, not allowing for solitary confinement as a tool for punishment, and calling for a more intense and thorough investigation by officials when a youth dies in custody.

“The night Maricella died, she was punished for yelling at a fellow inmate who had called her a prostitute at 6:30 p.m,” the newspaper reported. “She was supposed to be confined to her cell for 90 minutes, records show, but was never let out. “

Stories of unfair treatment of youth in the juvenile justice system continue to be cycled, like that of Maricella Chairez or the girl named Grace who was jailed for completing her homework after her school switched to online learning which violated her probation agreement.

Read more: Tackling Racial Disparity Called Key  to Youth Justice Reform

Expand Youth Justice Reforms to Cover Young Adults, says NY Report

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