By: Alexis Rodriguez, serving Life Without Parole since age 18 (28 years)
MENTAL HEALTH & THE INCARCERATED
Children Receiving Illegal Sentences In Society (C.R.I.S.I.S.)
I. Pennsylvania Mental Health and Mental Retardation Act of 1966 in essence defined a “minor” as a person 18 years of age or younger.
II. Sentencing minors to die in prison, with life-without-parole violates three international treaties; The International Covenant on Civil and political Rights, the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment AND the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination.
III. Neurological research indicates that the not fully developed brain areas involved in “decision making”, “delayed gratification” and “reasoning” are not yet matured until an individual reaches “at least 20 years of age”.
IV. While incarcerated, minors are at a much greater risk of suicide, and becoming victims of physical or sexual assault.
V. Pennsylvania is 1 of 13 states that has no age minimum when applying a life sentence.
VI. Experts will attest the fact that adolescent and teenage brains are not yet fully mature in regions and systems related to “higher order executive functions such as impulse control, planning ahead, and risk avoidance.” These effects are amplified by “exposure to peers.” Studies on peer-pressure, or “group behavior” indicate that, “Even ‘older’ adolescents who have developed general cognitive capacities similar to those of adults show deficits in these aspects of social emotional maturity.” See; Lawrence Stienberg, in Adolescent Development and Juvenile justice, 5 Ann. Rev. Clinical Psycol. 47, 55-56 (2008).
VII. “Historically, the imposition of life-without-parole sentences is rooted in racial stereotyping. For much of the 20th century, courts held that children were less culpable than adults and therefore not subject to such severe penalties. But in the 80’s and 90’s, the media, academics, and politicians characterized teen crime in racially coded terms.” See the Clintons description of teenagers as “super predators’ as if a wolf-pack, describing gang violence. Note: “A 2000 study of news broadcast in six major American cities that found that 62 of the stories involving Latino youth were about murder or attempted murder, even though the data from 1998 indicated that minority youth accounted for only 25 of all juvenile crime arrest.” (Latino Justice PRLDEF).
VIII. Prisons are ill-equipped to deal with mental health residents. When at first quarantined, they are evaluated using archaic levels of psychological assessment. Then, prisoners are categorized as fit or unfit to remain in a certain facility or ward/block. A resident may never again be examined unless he/she acts out. Many do, for sake of attention.
IX. Officers and guards are not trained to deal with the mentally ill. From their wrong assumptions, they often will agitate and instigate, harassing their unfortunate victims . Many guards are ex-servicemen looking for a job, who, themselves, are suffering from Post Traumatic Syndrome (PTS). Often, due to the peer pressure by those entrenched in the Corrections System, they are swayed by the “good 0l’ boys’ network”, and some officers will turn a blind eye to the legitimate needs of those in their care.
X. If they survive the system long enough, children eventually become the elderly in prison, and they, too, continue to suffer from a lack of caring and kn0wledgeable care. Worse yet are those sad cases where society deems you worthless, and your fellow prisoners, as well as the guards and management, treat you as the lowest caste, unworthy of human consideration.
An analysis needs to be done on the Pennsylvania system as a whole. I am reminded of DeTouqville’s , “Democracy in America”. Be leery of those who continually say, “lock’em up and throw away the key.” Remember, your son or daughter, your brother or sister, your mother or father, can be in my situation.
I believe the developmental process continues throughout ones life, and you CAN teach an “0l’ dog new tricks.”
Think of someone in prison, and even if you only contact them in your mind, say a simple prayer. We are redeemable.
ALEXIS RODRIGUEZ BH 6734
1000 Follies Road Dallas, Pa. 18612
EDITOR’S NOTE: I have personally known and visited Alexis Rodriguez for over three years, and I know him to be a kind hearted, intelligent, and caring individual, who is always willing to help a fellow inmate, and who gives much of his meager earnings to children’s charities. He has been a good friend and a source of spiritual enrichment for me, as well as many of those behind bars. I truly hope that he will be given a second chance someday…
Rick DiLaurenzo, Editor