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A mother takes on the juvenile prison system
Published on:Friday, February 17, 2012 - 18:28
When Grace Bauer’s son was just thirteen years old, he was sent to a juvenile prison in Louisiana, and became one of the 2.2 million children who get arrested and incarcerated each year in the United States. What happened to her son has turned Grace’s life upside down.
It was in 1998 when Grace started sleeping on the floor in her son’s room to keep him from leaving the house at night. Corey was thirteen, and had turned into the archetypal troubled teenager. He had come home at night, intoxicated and bloodied, refusing even to talk about it the next day.
Before and after moment
Not long before, Corey had been getting 'A's and 'B's at school, Grace said. But the death of Corey’s grandmother, Marianne, changed all that. Marianne’s death is what Grace calls “the before and after moment” in the life of her family. Within months, Corey was banned entirely from the Louisiana public school system. Finally, when he stole a $300 stereo from a truck with two other boys, he was adjudicated delinquent, and sent to juvenile detention.
Grace didn’t know it yet, but she had no legal relationship with her son anymore. As an attorney would later tell her: “Essentially you’ve lost your rights as a mother. And there’s nothing you can do. I can’t help you, I can’t take your money. The State of Louisiana now has full custody of your son, and there’s nothing you can do to fight this.”
Bruised and battered
When Grace visited her son Corey in Tallulah Correctional Facility, a brutal juvenile prison, she realized he was in trouble: “He was bruised and battered”. Corey had the imprint of a guard’s ring bruised into his temple, and the imprint of another guard’s boot on his ribcage, Grace said.
Corey’s mistreatment was more the rule than the exception: “Nearly 200 kids a month were being sent out of this facility for violent injuries that had occurred to their bodies”, Grace said. “I’m talking broken eye sockets, broken arms, broken jaws, burst ear drums; the violence was unbelievable.”
Grace wrote a panicked stream of letters to staff within Louisiana's Department of Corrections, all to no avail. She turned to the hundreds of families already campaigning on the issue of juvenile detention. Attending her first rally, Grace found that those campaigning were “probably 90 percent moms and dads and families of color, and a handful of white families” – a reflection of the disproportionate number of young people of color locked up in juvenile prisons.
Grace teamed up with these families to work towards one very specific goal: to shut Tallulah down. And they succeeded. Tallulah was closed in 2004.
It was the beginning of a wave of closures of juvenile correctional facilities in the United States. Over 50 facilities have closed in the past four years, according to a report released in October 2011.
No Place for Kids: The Case for Reducing Juvenile Incarceration, published by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, reveals the horrifying conditions of such facilities. It cites research from 2010 showing that one in eight confined youths reported being sexually abused by staff or other incarcerated young people, while 42 percent feared physical attack.
Grace Bauer is now a full-time activist dedicated to juvenile justice reform. She is the co-director of Justice for Families. Click the link to find out more information about the organization and how you can help.
”I’m always cautious about declaring victory because in this country there are 2.1 million arrests of juveniles every year. On any given night 100,000 kids could be in a facility very similar to what Corey endured,” Grace said.