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.

During 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 nearly died."

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 cells.

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.

Co-author 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.

SOURCES:

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.