Tuesday, April 21, 2009


So I was visiting in the Promise House cafeteria with a young man who had come in off the streets last Friday night. I'll call him Sam. I asked him how he came to be here, and this is the story I heard.

"Well, I got out of jail on Friday afternoon and didn't have a place to stay, so I went to the Bridge (the homeless assistance center), but the security guards wouldn't let me in, cause I'm not 18 (he is 17). They told me to go to the Dallas Life Foundation, so I found my way there and was filling out paperwork when they told me I couldn't stay there, cause I'm not 18. They did say that a police officer was coming by and could take me to Promise House. This was close to midnight. So that's how I got here."

So I then asked, "Why were you in jail?" He said he was charged with injury to a child. So, of course, I asked him how that happened, and he said he had gotten in a fight with his 12 year old cousin (girl), and her mother called the police and told them he had sexually assaulted his cousin. According to him, there was no proof of the sexual assault, so the crime was downgraded to injury to a child. He was tried as an adult (at 17, remember) and given 4 months in jail and 5 years probation. So, for the last 4 months, he had been incarcerated at the Lou Sterrett jail with adult males.

Now, what's wrong with this picture??? Well, let's see. He can't find a place to stay at adult shelters, cause he is not an adult. BUT, he can certainly be tried as an adult and housed in a jail with adult males for 4 months. I did not even ask about THAT experience, but I can imagine.

Seventeen year olds are NOT adults. But we seem to be really confused about this--the court system sees them as adults in many cases, but they can't vote, find housing, or sign a lease. It has taken years to persuade the justice system to NOT put juvenile status offenders in jail with adults!

This is one of the many ways teenagers continue to be mishandled, ignored, and even abused by our social service and justice systems. We need to decide--are 17 year-olds children or adults? Based on my 30 years of experience, they are definitely children, no matter how "adult" they look and act.

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