Suffer The Children: From School House To Cell Block
Last week, I chaired a community forum on legal education in Pine Hills. The main topic was Florida’s controversial “Stand Your Grand” law, but a big part of that discussion was juvenile justice.
The state of Florida – along with Michigan, Pennsylvania, California and Louisiana – accounts for two-thirds of all young persons aged 18 and under serving life sentences. For so many of these young people, a life sentence means that many of them will die behind bars.
Florida’s future is sitting behind a guarded wall, rotting away due to an archaic justice system that is among the most shocking in the civilized world.
Earlier this year, The Sentencing Project released a report detailing the lives of over 1,500 juvenile lifers. Of those reported, 60 percent were African-Americans. While race is not the determining factor as to why these individuals were given such harsh sentences at a young age, education and exposure to violence were.
One of the biggest problems in Florida is that our education system leaves a lot to be desired. If we want to truly make positive changes in the outcomes of the lives of our children, we must first fix our educational system.
That starts with stopping Republican-led efforts to privatize public education.
For many “at risk” juveniles, public school offers the only sense of stability and consistency they have in their lives. Allowing corporations to “save” our failing public institutions will only make the problem worse. We’ll end up with more juveniles feeling like failures and, as a result, more of them going to prison.
According to a study by the Northeastern University Center for Labor Market Studies Publications, African-Americans who drop out of high school have a 22 percent daily jailing rate. That is why it is so important that the fight against another hot ticket item on the Republican agenda – prison privatization – must continue. The two are inherently related, as the quality of our education directly impacts our prison populations.
If we turn both our schools and our prisons over to corporations – who, by design, are more concerned with profit than the well-being of human life – we will see our juveniles prison population swell. These corporations will lobby hard to increase their customer base by any means necessary, society be damned. The shareholders will get preferential treatment over the citizens every time. CEO salaries will rise. And all along our society will suffer the consequences.
Can you imagine if corporations owned and operated both our schools and our prisons? The potential for collusion would be enormous. The bottom-line is, expanding policies detrimental to our society would not just be a possibility, it would be our destiny.
This is why, when I’m elected, I will aggressively fight prison privatization efforts and submit legislation that will directly address our juvenile justice problem by ordering a state review of all juveniles who are sent to prison without the possibility of parole. It is the right thing to do for the whole of our society.
This cycle must stop. We can make the changes if we have the right leadership in Tallahassee.
Jason Henry is a candidate for the Florida House, representing District 46.