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‘We are just destroying these kids’: The foster children growing up inside detention centers [Washington Post]


Photo credit and caption:  Heard leaves the courtroom at the Boone County Courthouse in Madison. He hopes to train to be a tattoo artist. (Sarah L. Voisin/The Washington Post)
Dec. 30, 2019

Though he's never been convicted of a crime, Geard Mitchell spent part of his childhood in a juvenile detention center, at times sleeping on cement floors under harsh fluorescent lights left on through the night during lockdowns.

He attended high school by clicking through online courses and had “no one to talk to but the walls” because of restrictions on phone calls. He attended group therapy with teens accused of rape, when what he really needed was grief therapy to process his mother’s death.

Daily life became so torturous that Geard scratched up his face to look like a methamphetamine addict, hoping that “they would transfer me to somewhere more normal, like rehab.”

“I knew it was wrong to lie,” said Geard, 17, sitting in a courthouse in this town of shuttered coal fields and boarded-up shops. “But I was locked up with kids who were rapists and murderers. One kid even beat up a judge like it was nothing. That’s just not me.”

Geard’s only crime was being a foster child in an era when a surging number of biological parents are falling into the grips of drug addiction and child welfare systems are struggling with a shortage of foster parents. In hasty attempts to address the problem, case workers and courts have been funneling children into crowded emergency shelters, hotels, out-of-state institutions and youth prisons — cold, isolating and often dangerous facilities not built to house innocent children for years.

“We are just destroying these kids. They’re warehoused into emergency shelters, out-of-state institutions and juvenile detention centers, which can cause lifelong emotional trauma — their childhoods spent segregated from the outside world,” said Marcia Lowry, executive director of A Better Childhood (ABC), a nonprofit child advocacy organization.

To read the entire article by Emily Wax-Thibodeaux, click here.


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