Give Youth a Second Chance at LifePosted by Lauren Jones on June 7th, 2010
When Tedi Snyder was 15-years-old, he was arrested in Los Angeles and charged with attempted murder in an incident where no one was killed. Now Tedi faces 80 years to life in prison. His first parole date would be at age 95.
Tedi’s case illustrates much of what is unfair about our nation’s juvenile and criminal “justice” systems. For one, a youth’s right to a “speedy” trial often means years of waiting. Snyder was 15 when he was arrested. He is now almost 20 and is scheduled to be sentenced this August.
The U.S. Supreme Court recently ruled it unconstitutional to sentence a minor to life in prison without the possibility of parole in cases where no one is killed. But what about the youth who are facing exorbitant sentencing for the same types of offenses? To us, this is also "cruel and unusual” punishment. Youth like Tedi continue to face lengthy sentences that take most of their lives away, offer no hope of redemption, and equate to a life sentence.
In 2004, California had over 180 youth serving life without parole — a number that was the fifth highest in the country. The Youth Justice Coalition in Los Angeles estimates that today California has more than 200 youth serving such sentences. YJC points out that such sentences do not have a deterrent effect; California’s arrest rate for violent crimes by youth is higher than some states that do not sentence children to life without parole.
California also has the worst racial disparity rate in the nation: Black youth are sentenced to life without parole at 22 times the rate of White youth.
YJC, which is advocating fair sentencing for Tedi, has been calling for an overhaul of the juvenile justice system. Currently, rosecutors are allowed to stack the odds against youth. For example, when it comes to gang-related cases, one-sided testimonies come from law enforcement, not outside gang experts. Prosecutors play on the public’s fear of gangs to push for extreme sentences for youth. District attorneys have the power to file cases directly in criminal courts; a tactic that takes away a juvenile court judge’s ability to determine whether a youth would be more fairly judged in juvenile court.
During trials, the complexities of human relationships are replaced by black and white arguments. The truth is rarely revealed, and a child’s life is stolen.
The juvenile justice system was founded for the purpose of rehabilitation, not punishment. A poll conducted of Americans living on the West Coast found that 86 percent disagree with the idea that children and youth who are convicted of crimes are beyond redemption.
Just take a look at the stories below from youth involved in the system. They are much more complex than their case would allow you to see. They, and all other children, have the potential for rehabilitation.
I started getting in trouble in middle school. I was hanging out with people who were a bad influence or were going through things. I think it comes from my mom getting locked up when I was young and my dad was involved in gangs. I was trying to not follow in their steps but there was nothing better to do. I grew up in foster care until I ran away. I was staying with my aunt until I had to leave because I was doing things I wasn’t supposed to in her house. I went to live with my other aunt, then my cousin, and then my other aunt. When my mom got out I didn’t really know her, so communicating was hard.
I’ve gone to three different high schools and then I went to Camp Scott, an all-girl camp after we went on a joy ride. I got grand theft auto. Camp Scott was bad. It’s kind of like out here everyone has drama, but you can get away from it. There you’re just stuck. It’s lonely, they ’re really strict, it’s really bad. I don’t remember how long I was there; I just let time pass me. I keep in touch with one friend at Camp Scott but she is sentenced to 40 years and will be transferred to an adult facility when she turns 18.
Now I’m back in school and I’m graduating this June. I’m torn in deciding whether I should go to school or work. I’d like to go to school but my mom just lost her job, so I kind of feel like I should stay and help her. I’m still working on good communication with her. I’d like to study sociology and possibly become a lawyer. I’ve never been out of L.A. but I’d like to travel and I’m sure lawyers get to travel all the time. So, I’d like to do that. I think the Supreme Court decision was good because kids deserve a second chance. It’s one step at a time – this is a right step.
On the Supreme Court decision, I think it’s good. I would be a completely different person if I had to stay for life. I would’ve had to be my own one-man army. I really don’t know what I would be like, but I think I would’ve flipped out a long time ago if I were still there.
I started getting into trouble when my parents kicked me out. I started tagging on everything, that’s when everything changed. I just kept getting into more and more trouble. I was hanging with the wrong people. Their minds weren’t really on school. They just wanted to hang out, go to the beach, and being with them made me forget about what I need to do. I dropped out.
Most recently, in January, I was writing in the streets. This lady was following me, but I didn’t know it and she had a camera. She was taking pictures of everything I was doing. A couple hours later, I saw three cop cars and just kept going on about my business. But then I saw her go up to the cops and show them the pictures and then she pointed at me and I knew right away. I was like this is not happening. Then the lights from their guns, the little red lights, I saw them on my shirt and then I was like this can’t be happening. They took me to jail.
Right now I’m trying to get back in school to get my diploma. I want to show everyone that I’m not just some little punk. I want to be able to be a role model for my younger sister. I want to move out so I can show my parents that I can do this on my own. I want to discipline myself. I want to be involved in art and music, but I think I want to be a pilot. After I get my diploma I’ll either try to go to college or the Air Force. It would be nice to just fly away.
I think the court’s decision is good. There are some people getting 100 years for just a robbery case. Everyone deserves a second chance.
I grew up in the system. I was taken from my mother at four-months-old. She was on drugs and my dad was in jail so I went into foster care. At three, I went back to my mom, and when I was four she passed away. I went back in to the foster care system.
At age five or six I was kicked out of a foster care program because I guess I was just too bad. My childhood was filled with being bounced around. Never felt settled, never really formed any strong relationships with anyone. At age 12, I was out on my own and I was shot twice. At age 14, I had my first encounter with jail. I went to CYA for seven years, for attempting revenge on the person who shot me the year before. I got out at age 21. I call jail/prison a crutch. I’ve been in and out 15 times and I’m not even 30. I’ve gone for lots of things, robbery, gang affiliation, etc.
In juvie, the girls are separated from the boys. You go to school in the morning and then the rest of the day you’re just with your unit, which most likely means you’re in your room. Once a week they let us go outside for exercise. Sometimes they show us movies, sometimes we can write letters, but we have to ask for everything, showers, bathrooms, everything. Since being out I’m more calm. I don’t get agitated as easily. When I was there I was a Crip so I had to fight. There was a fight everyday. I was told when to eat, when to sleep. But now it’s like I’m free.
I’ve been out for a year now and I‘m doing good. I’ve got two little girls and it’s not just about me anymore. I’m living for them. I’ve checked back into school. I already have a college degree in history, I’m trying to get my high school diploma now. I want my girls to have a better living style. I want to put them through college. There was no one to put me through school, so I want them to have that. I would still like to be a history teacher, but I know that my record will most likely cause problems for me as far as employment. I just want to make my daughters happy and give us a better lifestyle. I’ll probably try to become a security guard or something like that.
Lauren Jones is a Communications Assistant at the W. Haywood Burns Institute. The Youth Justice Coalition is a group within our national network, the Community Justice Network for Youth (CJNY).
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