In Vigil for Nathaniel Abraham, ACLU Says System Failed Troubled Child

Affiliate: ACLU of Michigan
November 23, 1999 12:00 am

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ACLU of Michigan
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DETROIT — The American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan today joins our friends in the civil rights community, including Rev. Wendell Anthony, Rev. Al Sharpton, and attorney Geoffrey Fieger, in a vigil outside the facility where 13-year-old Nathaniel Abraham is being held pending his sentencing for second degree murder.

There are few crimes as great as when we fail our children. Lawmakers and prosecutors who want to treat children as adults in the criminal justice system fail to understand that punishment is not rehabilitation and revenge is not justice. The jury verdict in this case shows just how poorly our criminal justice system is equipped to help children in need.

The rate at which we are throwing children in jail has far exceeded the juvenile system’s capacity to house and provide even minimal standards of care for them. Besides massive overcrowding, many juvenile facilities lack adequate schooling programs, substance abuse treatment, medical and psychological care.

Since 1980, the prison population had more than tripled. This represents a level of incarceration that is 6-10 times more that of most industrialized nations. This increase has its greatest impact on African Americans.

In the period from 1985-1995, the number of African Americans in state prisons increased by 132 percent, compared to an increase of 109 percent for white prisoners. For drug offenses, there was a 707 percent rise in the number of imprisoned blacks, compared to 306 percent for whites.

This is remarkable, because crime rates have been falling nationally since 1992. Cuts in Michigan’s mental health budget, the closing of state juvenile mental health facilities, mandatory minimum laws, “Three Strikes” policies, so-called Truth in Sentencing laws, and greater prosecutorial discretion are all responsible for this increase.

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