For a contingent of juvenile and young adults incarcerated in Green Hill School and other juvenile detention facilities in Washington, some of their time behind bars is spent using their experiences to push for change in the world of juvenile justice
A panel of five young adults held at Green Hill School in Chehalis Thursday talked about their upbringing, brushes with the law and their motivation to ensure past mistakes aren’t repeated. Each of the panel members are involved in a group advocating for representation and improvement in the juvenile justice system, advocacy work that assisted in the passage of Senate Bill 6160, which was signed by Gov. Jay Inslee in March.
During the panel, facilitated by Evelyn Maddox, chair for Washington’s State Advisory Group’s youth committee, each of the five inmates divulged details on harsh upbringings, ones often littered with drugs and violence.
“All these things I needed to develop into a man, I never got it,” said Garrett Comer. “Only thing I got was rejection. Only thing I was told growing up is I’m a disappointment. I was told by my sixth grade teacher that I’m gonna be the kid that ends up dead or being in prison. I mean, I got one thing right. But I’m not gonna be the person that’s stepping out of prison as the same person I was when I came into prison. I can tell you that right now.”
Dubbed “Pursuit for Change,” a similar event was held last year for an audience of policy makers and people working in the full continuum of the justice system. A similar audience was present this year in a gymnasium at Green Hill School, a medium/maximum security facility for male juvenile offenders.
The event was kicked off by youth involved in the community, said Marybeth Queral, assistant secretary of the Department of Social and Health Services.
“Where they could really speak to people about themselves, what they’ve learned, what they bring to the table and for the people such as legislators, policy makers, law enforcement, judges … to see them as more than just their crime, because they definitely are more than that,” said Queral.
Besides the panel, the audience also heard from Noah Schultz, an advocate for incarcerated people. In his brief talk, he discussed his own time in the system, where he was sentenced to 7 and a half years at the age of 17. Since then, he said, he works to humanize incarcerated people.
During the panel, which dominated most of the event, many spoke ill of Washington law ensuring certain crimes are automatically tried in adult court — the very issue Senate Bill 6160 addresses. The bill removes the requirement that kids between the ages of 16 and 17 must be tried in adult court for certain crimes, such as murder. Prosecutors may now opt to try those serious charges against a juvenile in juvenile court.
“This means Washington communities will be safer because these youths will have access to a system that is better equipped to meet the needs of these young adults,” reads a report from the Washington State Department of Social & Health Services.
To see the whole article by Cody Neuenschwander, click here.