- /The Legal System Has Failed The
The Legal System Has Failed The
The legal system has failed the children who have passed through their courts. The courts failed to treat the kids justly when they began trying and sentencing them as adults. Some states have no minimum age when it comes to prosecuting children as adults. A quarter million children have been sentenced to serve jail time, and some of those children were under the age of twelve at their sentencing (pg 15). The court-appointed lawyers rarely investigated deeply into the cases because of the low salary they were being paid and what little resources they had. Lawyers were rarely willing to go into overtime because they would receive no more money. Children, like Trina, Ian, and Joe, were abandoned by their families and then by the court system. They were left to suffer inside prisons where many of their pre-existing condition worsened.
Since court-appointed lawyers were not being paid vast amounts of money to investigate these crimes, many of the children that were locked away suffered from various mental illnesses. Trina, who accidentally burnt a house down, “was so nonfunctional and listless that her appointed lawyer thought she was incompetent to stand trial” (pg 149). Trina’s lawyer failed to file the proper paperwork for Trina to be found incompetent. The same lawyer was later disbarred for criminal misconduct. Because of his previous error, Trina had to be tried as an adult according to Pennsylvania law. It is also stated in Pennsylvania law that anyone convicted of second-degree murder has to serve life in prison with no chance of parole. Since she was convicted of second-degree murder, the judge “could not consider Trina’s age, mental illness, poverty, the abuse she had suffered, or the tragic circumstances surrounding the fire” (pg 150). Trina’s case is nothing special; there are hundreds of other children who are imprisoned and discarded because of their mental disabilities.
At the age of sixteen, Trina began to serve her life sentence at the State Correctional Facility at Muncy. “ Not long after she arrived at Muncy, a male correctional officer pulled her into a secluded area and raped her. The crime was discovered when Trina became pregnant” (pg 150). She gave birth to her child handcuffed to a bed. Immediately after her child was born, he was taken from her. Everything that happened to Trina, before and after her imprisonment, led to the further deterioration of her mental health. “Her body began to spasm and quiver uncontrollably, until she required a cane and then a wheelchair. By the time she had turned thirty, prison doctors diagnosed her with multiple sclerosis, intellectual disability, and mental illness related to trauma” (pg 151).
Ian Manuel was a thirteen-year-old boy who was convinced by two older boys to help them rob a couple at gunpoint. When Debbie Baigre, the woman, resisted, Ian shot her through the cheek with the gun the older boys had given him. All three of the boys were arrested and charged with armed robbery and attempted murder. Ian’s court-appointed lawyer encouraged him to plead guilty telling him that Ian would only have to serve fifteen years in prison. “The lawyer did not realize that two of the charges against Ian were punishable with sentences of life imprisonment without parole. The judge accepted Ian’s plea and then sentenced him to life with no parole” (pg 152).
Baigre understood that Ian was only a boy and that “his sentence was too harsh and that his conditions of confinement were inhumane” (153). Ian was locked in solitary because of his age and how small he was. Since he was a child in an adult prison, it was likely that he would become a victim of a violent crime, so prison guards locked him in solitary for his ‘protection’. “In solitary, Ian became a self-described ‘cutter’; he would take anything sharp on his food tray to cut his wrists and his arms just to watch himself bleed. His mental health unraveled, and he attempted suicide several times. Each time he hurt himself or acted out, his time is isolation was extended” (pg 152-153).
Joe Sullivan was a thirteen-year-old boy who could only read at the first-grade level. He had experienced repeated physical abuse at the hands of his father and suffered years of severe neglect. Joe had been arrested about ten times before he had been accused of sexually assaulting the woman who owned the house he was robbed. Sullivan was convinced by two older boys to assist them in robbing the house. His probation officer described Sullivan as “easily influenced and associates with the wrong crowd” (pg 258) and “ very immature naive person who is a follower rather than a leader” (pg 258). The police had never before arrested him for violent crimes. “Police stopped him for violations including trespassing, stealing a bike, and property crimes committed with his older brother and other older teens” (pg 258). Because of those smaller crimes, the court system had given up on Ian and thought he had no chances of rehabilitation. They thought they were unable to do anything to redeem Sulliva.
Sullivan was sent to an adult prison where he was repeatedly raped and sexually assaulted, and because of that, he attempted suicide multiple times. He eventually developed multiple sclerosis, and he was forced into a wheelchair. “Doctors later concluded that his neurological disorder might have been triggered by trauma in prison” (pg 259).
Being in prison caused Trina, Ian, and Joe to deteriorate. “They had each been broken by years of hopeless confinement” (pg 160). They were just children who were debilitated by their experience. They lived in environments surrounded by abuse and dysfunction. Their poor decision making skill led them down tragic paths. “Young adolescents lack life experience and background knowledge to inform their choices; they struggle to generate options and to imagine consequences; and, perhaps for good reason, they lack the necessary self-confidence to make reasoned judgments and stick by them” (pg 269). Trina, Ian, and Joe were children who were confused children. They were condemned as children; and as they grew and their minds evolved, they were no longer the same person as the children who committed those crimes. Trina, Ian, and Joe are not special cases because there are hundreds of children still locked away in prisons across America.
I’m a freelance writer with a bachelor’s degree in Journalism from Boston University. My work has been featured in publications like the L.A. Times, U.S. News and World Report, Farther Finance, Teen Vogue, Grammarly, The Startup, Mashable, Insider, Forbes, Writer (formerly Qordoba), MarketWatch, CNBC, and USA Today, among others.