An article by Joseph Boven in the Colorado Independent exposes the plight of juveniles who have been charged as adults, and often spend months in solitary confinement as they await their trials. As we’ve written before, kids in adult prisons are highly likely to end up in solitary, either because they are considered disciplinary problems or because they have to be isolated from adult offenders “for their own protection.”
These children have not yet been convicted of any crime–and even if they never are, their lives are often ruined by the time they get out. In part, this is because they receive no education while they sit alone in their cells. One Colorado state senator is trying to change that situation–but predictably, neither the state nor local school districts want to take on the expense of educating these kids. The state will pay to keep them in solitary confinement, though–which according to one study costs up to $75,000 a year.
Juvenile suspects awaiting trial as adults in Colorado jails languish without education, sometimes held in solitary confinement while they wait for their day in court. The harsh conditions come partly as a fact of the state’s more generally overcrowded prison facilities, where the young people are held in adult prisons, shunted into solitary confinement in order simply to keep them segregated from the adult population. State Sen. Evie Hudak, D-Westminster, told the Colorado Independent that young people held in these conditions have committed suicide.
“Kids are in a jail cell all day long for months and months and months,” she said. “They’re entitled to receive an education but no one has worked out how to provide that education.”
State law requires juveniles in detention receive education. An estimates puts the number of students awaiting trial as adults at more than 130. Hudak said the Colorado Department of Education is aware of the problem but has yet to work out how to address it.
“Nobody knows where to [hold instruction], who is going to provide the instruction and how are you going to pay for it. It’s very important for these kids to get an education. Most of them don’t end up serving life terms.” They’re going to come back out into society at some point, she said.
Hudak has introduced legislation that attempts to address the issue but, given the historic strained budget crisis facing the state, the odds are high it will fail to gain sufficient support to pass. The Colorado Association of School Boards, for example, has already opposed the bill, arguing that school districts do not have the money and that the state would have to pick up the tab.
Hudak said that a quarter of the cases where juveniles are charged as adults are dismissed. “A number of them are acquitted and the rest pretty much go to the youth offender system for three to seven years and then they are out.”
Hudak said the resulting gap in education leads to recidivism. She also thinks it increases the likelihood of deep depression and suicide. In the last year, two juvenile suspects have committed suicide while awaiting trials as adults. Hudak says that in part it is a result of an inability to see a future for themselves.
“They sit there in an empty cell for weeks and weeks thinking about how they ruined their lives. They are children. I see this [legislation working] to not only educate these students but to allow them to have some hope and vision of a future.”