10. THE ABUSE OF AMERICA'S INCARCERATED CHILDREN
A young boy is locked inside an institution. He has not committed a
crime. His only offense is that his parents were seriously injured in
an automobile accident. He had no relatives or guardians to turn to.
He was placed inside the Los Angeles County Juvenile Hall and told he
was to be kept there until his parents "were well."
He was put into a dormitory-living situation
with other children ranging in age from seven to seventeen. Some kids were confined
because of broken homes, but most were there because of their participation in
criminal activities: burglary, auto theft, even murder.
For Dwight Boyd
Roberts, a nine-year-old boy who had never been in trouble with the law, juvenile
hall was to quickly become a nightmare. Upon his arrival, one of the older kids
severely beat him while a counselor looked on and made no attempt to stop it.
The first night, he watched three teenagers sexually assault another kid; their
victim was about seven years old; they were about fourteen or fifteen.
the four months Roberts was initially incarcerated in juvenile hall, he experienced
another side to life that is known only by the people confined to such an environment.
In his own words: "I experienced my first physical beating, my first sexual
molestation, my first placement in solitary confinement, and I watched, for the
first time, an act of rape. I also committed my first act of violence and my victim
This is from a condensed version of a larger work written
by Dwight Boyd Roberts. His story describes the mental, physical, and sexual abuse
he suffered as a child inside America's juvenile-penal system. His story is one
shared by thousands of people and it is one that the media did not cover in depth
in 1988 nor in the many years that preceded.
The issue of abuse of incarcerated
children has received little exposure because children have an even lesser voice
than their adult counterparts; and change at any level of the prison system is
often widely perceived as a threat to the status quo.
On any given day, there are an average of 2.5 million children of both
sexes between the ages of five and nineteen years incarcerated in America's
juvenile detention facilities. Of that number, more than 1.2 million
are being sexually abused by their peers. Nearly 150,000 more are being
abused by their state-employed counselors and staff members.
The physical abuses these children suffer range from rape to spankings
to beatings with fists, whips, ropes, and chains. The mental abuses
they suffer range from feelings of being uncared for, unwanted by parents,
to indefinite periods of isolation inside filthy solitary-confinement
It is no
wonder that today's incarcerated children become tomorrow's cop killers, rapists,
and mass murderers. Charles Manson, Gary Gilmore, George Jackson, and Dwight Boyd
Roberts share one trait: they were each incarcerated children.
Jack Carter spoke with Dwight Boyd Roberts in his cell in the maximum-security
wing of Washington State penitentiary where he is serving a ten-year sentence
for assault with a deadly weapon.
ARETE, "I Cried, You
Didn't Listen," by Dwight Boyd Roberts with Jack Carter, pp 22-27; Personal
letter, 2/21/89, from Jack Carter.