Tag Archive for neglect

Southern Poverty Law Center sues Polk County Sheriff for abusive conditions

SPLC_LogoPolk County Sheriff Grady Judd is on the hot seat facing accusations that children held in his county’s adult jail have been consistently subjected to abuse, neglect and violence.

The Southern Poverty Law Center (SLPC) filed a class action lawsuit against Judd (Case Number 8:12-cv-00568-SDM-MAP, filed in the United States District Court Middle District of Florida/ Tampa Division) that describes brutal treatment and condition in the jail. Among the disturbing allegations are incidents such as:

  • Draconian punishment for even minor infractions of the rules. One example cited was spraying them with harsh chemicals for taking too long to get dressed.
  • Incidents of both physical and verbal abuse by guards. One noted example was a a guard twisting a teenager’s arm behind his back and threatening to break it.
  • Failure to provide adequate educational services.
  • Failure to provide adequate rehabilitative services.

That is an amazing array of negatives, particularly since the facility has only been housing children for six months, since October of 2011. Why are they doing so? Because of SB 2112, passed by Florida lawmakers last Spring. SB 2112 allows counties to place children as young as eight years old in adult jails, and they have.

Three quarters of the the youth arrested in Polk Country are brought in for minor infractions – misdemeanors and probation violations mostly – yet over 100 children are incarcerated there under the supervision of guards that have no expertise or training on how to work with children.

So far Polk is the only county in Florida that detains youth charged as juveniles under adult jail standards rather than Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) standards. The situation there reflects the damage that SB 2112 has done in basically reversing over 40 years of work creating protections for children that adult jails cannot provide.

It’s almost as though Sheriff Judd wants to breed more crime and criminals, a view the SPLC website seems to agree with me on:

Decades of research shows that exposing children to adult jails leads to more crime, not less. Based on this research, states around the country have passed legislation prohibiting the placement of children in adult jails. Florida legislators bucked this promising trend when they passed a law that could funnel more children into adult jails throughout the state of Florida.

‘The abuse suffered by the children of Polk County should serve as a cautionary tale for counties throughout the state of Florida that are considering housing children in adult jails.’ Galloni said. ‘This lawsuit demonstrates that incarcerating children in adult jails is bad public policy that inflicts incalculable harm on children, results in negative public safety outcomes and exposes taxpayers to tremendous legal liability.’

We will be following this story closely, and will hopefully be bringing you a few interviews with some of the folks behind the SPLC lawsuit in the near future.

Nurturing in Early Years Has Direct Impact on Child Development

Child's EyeAn oft recurring theme on the HUMANE EXPOSURES blog is the effect of parenting and environment on the early development of children. Studies of runaways and incarcerated juveniles show a correlation between those early years and the eventual path that the child takes as an adult.

Think of how frequently the topic of abuse or a neglect-ridden childhood comes up in court and in the studies of repeat offenders. Consider the personal narratives of the homeless and how much of a recurring theme these issues are in their plight.

Enter Notre Dame psychology professor Darcia Narvaez who has helmed a recent group of studies that confirm earlier work done in the field. The results suggest that children who get more physical affection during infancy turn out to be kinder, smarter, and more caring about others.
Maia Szalavitz, a journalist and author of some renown in this field, noted Narvaez’ work in her recent column on Time Magazine‘s Healthland blog:

Narvaez, who will present her findings at a conference in early October, conducted three separate studies. The first compared parenting practices in the U.S. and China. Another followed a large sample of children of teen mothers who were involved in a child abuse–prevention project, and compared outcomes of various types of early parenting practices. The third examined how parents of 3-year-olds behaved toward their children.

So we have a nice broad base to start from, that’s good. The variety of studies does give us confidence about the veracity of the findings. Szalavitz writes:

All three studies suggested the same thing: children who are shown more affection early in life reap big benefits. Researchers found that kids who were held more by their parents, whose cries received quick responses in infancy and who were disciplined without corporal punishment were more empathic — that is, they were better able to understand the minds of others — later in life.

Later in the column, Narvaez neatly sums up the findings:

‘What’s been studied most is responsivity,’ [Narvaez] says, referring to the way parents respond to their babies and act accordingly, for example, noticing when they are about to cry and reacting appropriately to subtle positive and negative signals about what they want. ‘[Responsivity] is clearly linked with moral development. It helps foster an agreeable personality, early conscience development and greater prosocial behavior.”

Even behavioral research on rats bears this out. Rats raised by neglectful mothers tend to be not as fast, smart, or social as their more doted-on counterparts.

Research like this is highly important. If we are ever to cure the society’s ills, we need to know where our efforts need to be applied. Work like this confirms our already existent ideas about how crucial early development is when looked at in the context of its impact on later life.

We would also advise checking out more work by Maia Szalavitz. She is a journalist who covers health, science and public policy. She is a co-author, with leading child trauma expert Bruce D. Perry, M.D., Ph.D., of Born for Love: Why Empathy is Essential– and Endangered, (Morrow, 2010). They previously co-authored The Boy Who Was Raised as a Dog and Other Stories from a Child Psychiatrist’s Notebook: What Traumatized Children Can Teach Us About Loss, Love and Healing (Basic, 2007). Her work in the field of journalism runs the gamut from The New York Times and The Washington Post to New Scientist and O, The Oprah Magazine, among other major publications.

Source: “No Such Thing as Too Much Love: ‘Spoiled’ Babies Grow Up to Be Smarter, Kinder Kids,” Time Magazine, Healthland, 09/29/10
Image by apdk, used under its Creative Commons license.

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