Let's stop sending young Black boys to prison

mcneir | 12/7/2011, 8:35 a.m.

Unfortunately, the journey to prison for Black males throughout the U.S. begins during childhood. Prisons are full of Black boys who are repeatedly arrested during childhood, sometimes for frivolous reasons; they grow up to become prison inmates. For many it is a destiny they did not choose. There are many reasons Black men are over-represented in the prison population. One reason for this phenomenon is the adverse conditions that exist within the social environment which predispose Black men to a life of incarceration. Black boys are not genetically predisposed to a life of crime.Children must be responsible for their behavior. Our goal as parents is to teach them there are consequences for their behavior. However, under no circumstance must children be subjected to cruel and unusual punishment for misconduct. Incidents such as the one in which three St. Petersburg officers allegedly pinned down and handcuffed a five-year-old student, Jaeisha Scott, for misbehaving, are not acceptable.I agree that schools must create a safe environment for everyone. However, arresting children on assault charges for a school yard fight is excessive and can become a life sentence. This is where the prison cycle began for many adult prisoners. Unfortunately, at times the very institution that was created to prepare our children for a better quality of life actually tarnishes the lives and futures of many Black boys. Could it be the chicken has come home to roost? Perhaps we are seeing the consequences of exposing our children to aggressive law enforcement, zero tolerance school systems and an abusive Juvenile Justice Department. If we want to change the disproportionate number of Black men in prisons, we must first change how we criminalize them when they are young boys. We must advocate changing the Miami-Dade County system of Direct File which adversely affects minority boys. We must promote a more balanced system of justice to determine when and if our children are to be tried as adults. If we protect our Black boys now we will not have to defend our Black men later. Florida State Representative CynthiaStafford and State Senator Arthenia Joyner introduced Senate Bill 92, Second Chance for Children Act. SB Bill 92 supports juveniles with sentences of 10 years or more a second chance at age 25 to go back before the sentencing judge for a chance at a reduced or paroled sentence. Stafford is to be commended for taking a brave step in the right direction.Lets see if her fellow Senate colleagues will support her. The rest of us in Florida should continue to support legislators who are willing to take a stand on tough issues in order to make a difference in our communities.