By Nick Mosher
Juvenile detention centers are supposed to be a place where misbehaving youth are sent to be rehabilitated to act appropriately in society. But can this happen when these facilities are overcrowded and understaffed? Sue Burrell explains her reactions of visiting a packed juvenile detention center. She does not give the names or locations of the centers but if I had to guess, I would say they were located in dense cities where gangs play a big factor. Burrell referred to the center as a hellhole that kids and staff were forced to endure1. One facility was too crowded to properly clean everything so it smelled of clothes that hadn’t been washed and urine. Children were forced to sleep in closets, hallways, bathrooms and just about every other room available. There was absolutely no privacy and even the children that were sent to isolation rooms had roommates2.
Due to the fact that these facilities literally hold double of what the allowed limit is, the detainees only receive half of the schooling, medical attention, dental care, recreational activities, food, visitation and counseling hours, and clothing3. This reminds me of how people live in third world countries except everyday in the detention centers; there is constant fighting and abuse. I, as well as Burrell, believe that this is a direct cause of the number of children being held in there and the little amount of staff working. One very common problem is that younger children live in the same room as several older teenagers and this causes a lot of bullying and abuse both physically and sexually2. The constant fear of that plus having majority of the walls and floors covered in spit, urine, feces, and blood made many of the children very depressed4. Due to the amount of time and effort that the staff spent towards preventing the kids from fighting and rioting, little help was given to the children who were depressed.
In the article, “Walls of Fear and Walls of Support,” Peter Marcuse discusses the many different types of walls in our society and how they have different uses, meanings, and characteristics. Some of these walls can be seen negatively or positively depending on which side of the wall you are on. Depending on how the wall is viewed it can create fear or support. Marcuse used the term prison walls and described them as having a definitive meaning of keeping people inside of them with no escape. This is very true and to the people on the outside of the wall, they are seen as more supportive. To the people on the inside, it is the opposite5.
Sue Burrell gives her readers an insight as to what those walls look like from the inside of juvenile detention facilities; specifically overcrowded ones that aren’t well maintained. These walls are dirty, covered in blood, spit, urine, and even feces. There are tiny holes in the ones that divide rooms5. These walls reflect what the atmosphere is like in the detention centers and there is no argument that it intimidates and strikes fear into the children and even staff living there. For many of the detainees, those walls are the only boundaries that they see. Children have said that they have gone weeks without stepping outside because of the over crowdedness and lack of staff2. The fear that this atmosphere creates leads to depression in many of the children. Unfortunately after they become depressed, they don’t receive the attention or help they need and this creates huge problems with self abuse.
I believe that fear can be used as a consequence for misbehavior, but not to where it is uncontrollable and endangers the helpless. Facilities that are designed to help and care for the youth are in fact doing the opposite which is having tremendous negative effects.
1. Sue Burrell, “The Human Impact of Crowding in Juvenile Detention,” Journal for Juvenile Justice and Detention Services. (1998). 42.
2. Ibid., 44.
3. Ibid., 46.
4. Ibid., 45.
5. “Walls of Fear and Walls of Security.” In Ellin, Nan, ed. The Architecture of Fear. Princeton University Press, 1997.