Michael Kemp was just 17 years old when he was charged, as an adult, with armed robbery and sent to adult jail.
“You never know what the adults might do to you, and you’re just thinking, man, what’s going to happen to me?” he told Digital Journal. “For a kid, being in an adult prison is a constant struggle to survive. They know… that you’re far away from home, so they pull you in. But in reality, they’re trying to get a favor out of you — a sexual act — and then you get victimized or raped and then you become someone’s… person.”
Luckily for Kemp, he was not one of these victims, but so many other young inmates are not as fortunate. Even though only 1% of all inmates in adult jail are under the age of 18, according to a 2005 study, a reported 1 in 5 cases of all sexual violence in jails and prisons happen to these minors. As a result, all too many of these child inmates end up suffering from long-term psychological and emotional damage that will impact them for life. Child detainees are also 36 times more likely to commit suicide in adult prison than if they were put in a juvenile hall.
And yet, according to federal statistics, an estimated 10,000 children as young as 13 years old continue to be locked up with adult criminals. Alarmingly, over 75% of these children have not even been formally convicted yet. Although not yet old enough to drink, vote, or sometimes even drive, children under the age of 18 may nonetheless be able to be prosecuted as adults and locked up with adult criminals.
Earlier this month, 32 members of Congress addressed a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder Jr. in an effort to persuade him to realize that keeping children out of the adult criminal justice system would “be consistent with Congressional intent,” and in fact congruent with the Federal Prison Rape Elimination Act of 2003. This is an extremely valid point; however, there has been no reply by the Attorney General as of yet. We can also do our part in helping to make this issue known, and by taking action now to rescue children from the adult prison system.
“It’s just preparing you for a more criminal-type lifestyle,” said Kemp. Juvenile correctional facilities, on the other hand, stress the importance of serving as a launching-off point for their young inmates to make a better life for themselves after serving their time. By subjecting them to the trauma and neglect of adult prison, these children are set up to fail.
We need to make it extremely clear to our state decisionmakers that adult prisons are unsafe for minors.