Any time I want to make sure I’m not getting too optimistic about things, I pause to remember how shamingly far the US differs (always in the wrong direction) from all other developed countries on a whole slew of indices of national well-being or flourishing. Just off the top of my head, without taking to Google to find lists, there’s
- infant mortality
- maternal mortality
- lack of universal health insurance
- income inequality
- wealth inequality
- percentage of the population in prison
- violent crime
That’s a terrible list.
An item I wasn’t really aware of is the rate of juvenile incarceration. It’s off the fucking charts higher than any other developed country. How the scorching blood of shame rises to contemplate that fact.
There’s a new book on the subject by Nell Bernstein, Burning Down the House.
The American rate of juvenile incarceration is seven times that of Great Britain, and 18 times that of France. It costs, on average, $88,000 a year to keep a youth locked up — far more than the U.S. spends on a child’s education.
Think what an education a kid could get for 88k a year.
But the biggest problem with juvenile incarceration, author Nell Bernstein tells Fresh Air‘s Dave Davies, is that instead of helping troubled kids get their lives back on track, detention usually makes their problems worse, and sets them in the direction of more crime and self-destructive behavior.
“The greatest predictor of adult incarceration and adult criminality wasn’t gang involvement, wasn’t family issues, wasn’t delinquency itself,” Bernstein says. “The greatest predictor that a kid would grow up to be a criminal was being incarcerated in a juvenile facility.”
So we do a lot of it, more than other comparable countries. Brilliant. Just fucking brilliant.
A lot of them talked about being numb to fear, but some of that felt like leftover bravado to me, because the stories they told of what actually happened to them were so terrifying that I can’t believe that there wasn’t fear.
One young man described arriving at a new facility just as a fight broke out in the dormitory to which he had been assigned. And although he hadn’t been involved, his whole dorm was stripped to their boxers, handcuffed, chained together, taken to the gymnasium and forced to kneel there for what turned out to be two weeks. Is fear the right word for what you feel during an experience like that? I don’t know, because, again, he described his humanity draining out of him as he listened to the guards banter and tell jokes and just pass the time, as if these were something other than suffering human beings on the floor in front of them. …
It’s right up there with the Irish mother and baby homes and the industrial “schools” and the Magdalene laundries – only this is now, and it’s here in my country where I vote.