Prison Law Blog

Sara Mayeux

What If the State Locked Up Your Kid in Solitary for Months — No School, No Education of Any Kind?

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Since states spend so much money and manpower trying to get kids into school through the enforcement of truancy laws, it’s all the more remarkable that when the very same at-risk youth likely to be truant get into bigger trouble and wind up in the criminal justice system, many states expend even greater amounts of money and manpower to keep those same kids out of school. As I noted a few months ago in a post on the New York juvenile justice system, at the troubled Tryon youth prison, what educational programs are available are not accredited and as such, don’t count toward a high school diploma. In Colorado, youth awaiting trial in adult prisons (and note that Colorado law makes it relatively easy to try juveniles as adults) don’t have access to any educational programming at all. Keep in mind the education component is only a small piece of the problem in Colorado as these are untried, unconvicted youth being held in solitary confinement for months or even years.

The Colorado Independent reports on a reform proposal that, although only a small step towards dismantling this unjust system, would be an important step:

The current status quo sees un-convicted teenagers languishing for months and years in adult prisons ill-equipped to provide even constitutionally mandated services such as education.

Senate Bill 54, sponsored by Sen. Evie Hudak, D-Westminster, that has been fighting its way through the Senate passed a second reading this week. The proposed law would require the state to provide four hours of education per week to juveniles awaiting trial and also require sheriffs to register information about the juveniles being held in their facilities in a central database. As the Colorado Independent has reported, information on the numbers, demographics, charges and conditions of incarceration regarding imprisoned un-convicted youth is at best spotty, compromising efforts to assess and reform a system almost everyone involved, including sheriffs, readily admits is inadequate.

“These kids are in solitary confinement for [an average of] seven months and as a result have a poorer future,” Hudak told lawmakers from the floor of the Senate Tuesday. She said that 25 percent of these cases are either dismissed or come back as not guilty. The effect is that we have young people living for months in adult prisons and missing schooling for no good reason. Youth held in such conditions, she said, become depressed and fall into a downward spiral. Hudak’s bill would reduce jail suicides and fight recidivism.

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