Uncage Our Children

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By Corey A. Jackson is a newly elected Riverside County Board of Education Member and the CEO, SBX Youth & Family Services

A nation has lost its soul when they begin to throw away their children. Unfortunately, that is exactly what America has done since the war against drugs in the 1980s. So much so that we no longer think of them as fully human. Think about that. We no longer think about all of our children as being entitled to their humanity.

In this rugged individualism that the dominant culture takes pride in, we have come to believe that we have the right to determine who is worthy of humanity and who is not. Leadership in Riverside County now touts its record low child incarceration rate, but that was only due to the growing federal incarceration mandates to depopulate California’s prison system. Not because these are children that must be nurtured and healed. Although California is heading in the right direction, according to the Prison Policy Initiative,  “California has an incarceration rate of 581 per 100,000 people (including prisons, jails, immigration detention, and juvenile justice facilities), meaning that it locks up a higher percentage of its people than many wealthy democracies do.” For such a progressive state, how can this be so? Because California still has a punishment and lock-up mentality to solve its problems. In short, when anyone doesn’t conform or get in line when we ask them to, we will make them suffer.

Now we are in a once-in-a-lifetime pandemic where people of all ages are dying from COVID-19, and society has determined that everyone must be protected except the lowest of our society. Incarcerated adults, homeless individuals, and our children in juvenile hall. Our government calls them juvenile offenders, they are OUR CHILDREN. Imagine hearing that a child was stuck in a room full of poisonous gas or engulfed in a fire and EVERYONE knew about it, but all we did was stood and watched. I don’t know about you, but I would be ashamed and should be locked up myself for allowing such a thing to happen. Well, newsflash, that is what is happening with our CHILDREN who are locked up with the extremely high risk of being infected and possibly die. What is worse, you have county officials like Riverside County Sheriff Chad Bianco, who is recorded saying that “they should have thought about that.”

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This is shameful and anyone who shares this view should be thrown out in the next election. We must transfer as many of our CHILDREN out of these cages, and into a monitored and safer environment, to keep them alive and healthy. For the few who will remain in detention, Riverside County Probation must ensure that youth can communicate regularly with their families, receive updates on the COVID-19 pandemic when requested through reliable sources, are not placed in solitary confinement except in accordance with state law (and then only for four hours or less, or when other interventions are exhausted), and receive health and mental health prevention and treatment. Further, for the few students remaining, Riverside County Office of Education (RCOE), must develop instructional solutions that addresses the public health concerns and fulfills their obligation to provide youth with a meaningful and equitable education. In particular, in accordance with guidance from the U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights and the California Department of Education, RCOE must maintain services for students with disabilities in the camps and halls pursuant to their Individualized Education Programs.

There is more that we can do to protect these CHILDREN by getting them out of these incubators of disease. I hope that our county supervisors make this a priority. Because our CHILDREN deserve better.

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