10/10/2011

If I Get Out Alive - Children Sentenced to Adult Prison

ifigetoutalive


Dad, I'm really scared.
Scared that I will die in here.
-- Rodney Hulin, 16, writing to his father from an adult prison in Texas.

Every day in prisons across the United States, kids are fighting for their lives.

They're locked in mortal combat with adult criminals who are bigger, stronger, meaner and much tougher. Some kids will survive,
and come out of prison with all the mean, tough survival skills that prison life teaches. Some kids won't.

Rodney Hulin didn't.

Sixteen years old, Rodney Hulin was beaten and raped so often in a Texas adult prison that he hung himself in his cell. He lay in a coma for four months, and finally died. Rodney Hulin is not alone.

IF I GET OUT ALIVE is a one-hour radio documentary, which exposes the systematic abuse and brutality faced by juveniles in the adult prison system. It is narrated by Academy Award-winning actress and child advocate Diane Keaton. The program addresses first-hand accounts from adolescents currently behind bars, rehabilitated youths who survived the system, parents of children who died in adult prisons, legal experts, policy makers and correction officers. The program also addresses the abysmal mental health conditions in prison and jails faced by young people (fifty percent of whom, according to new research, are affected by a serious mental illness) as well as examining alternative sentencing programs that are successful in diverting young offenders from prison.
Across the United States, tens of thousands of children are locked up in with adults in prisons and jails every year. This is not only immoral and unwise; it is a violation of the U.S. Constitution and of United Nations standards. And the threat is growing. Currently, laws are pending in Congress and in several states that would double or even triple the number of young people in adult prisons.

If I Get Out Alive is a one-hour radio documentary, which exposes the systematic abuse and brutality faced by juveniles in the adult prison system. It is narrated by Academy Award-winning actress and child advocate Diane Keaton. The program addresses first-hand accounts from adolescents currently behind bars, rehabilitated youths who survived the system, parents of children who died in adult prisons, legal experts, policy makers and correction officers. The program also addresses the abysmal mental health conditions in prison and jails faced by young people (fifty percent of whom, according to new research, are affected by a serious mental illness) as well as examining alternative sentencing programs that are successful in diverting young offenders from prison.

Featured People
The voices are from a broad range of perspectives on all sides of the juvenile justice debate. If I Get Out Alive will offer a fair and balanced presentation of important personal testimony and objective critical analysis. Special effort will made to represent the disproportionate impact of these problems on minority populations.
Among the voices we hear from in the program are:
  • Rodney Hulin, father of 16-year-old Rodney Hulin, who was convicted of arson in 1995 and sentenced to eight years. Rodney hung himself after 75 days of being repeatedly sodomized, raped and beaten in a particularly brutal adult prison in Texas.
  • Donna Ratliff, a sexually abused 14-year-old who set fire to her home, killing her mother and sister. Convicted as an adult for murder, she was sent to an adult women's prison, where she was threatened and sexually harassed, and offered no rehabilitative services. More than 60 editorials in local and national newspapers resulted in Donna's transfer to a more appropriate juvenile rehabilitation center, where she remains;
  • and Mark Soler of the Youth Law Center who has been defending the rights of young people for more than 20 years.
The tragedies and triumphs that define this issue are emotionally arresting. Previously, most coverage has been limited to policy debates, ignoring the human and emotional dimensions of the story. The in-depth interviews will allow subjects to fully express their opinions and thoughts without being reduced to a sound bite. This program provides an opportunity for the public to hear stories that often go untold.
For many people, criminals are faceless monsters that "deserve" whatever punishment they receive.In reality, only a small percentage of adolescent arrests are for violent crimes (6% in both 1992 and 1994, according to a U.S. Justice Department study). Most juvenile criminals are misbehaving adolescents in desperate need of guidance and support. Many of them are suffering from mental health problems that their schools or parents have been unable to cope with. The hope is that these stories will encourage people to re-evaluate the criminal justice system they help support with their tax dollars. Effective, alternative correctional programs do exist and need media attention. Young criminals should be disciplined, but fairly and appropriately. They should be taught, not tortured. The line between necessary discipline and cruel and unusual punishment must be drawn.
A Critical Need
There is also a policy side to this issue. Legislation pending on Capitol Hill would dramatically increase the number of children tried and jailed as adults. Charles Frazier, Donna Bishop and Lonn Lanza-Kaduce of the University of Florida conducted a study of recidivism which concluded that "juveniles sent to the adult system are significantly more likely to be re-arrested than those kept in juvenile court, by almost 30%." Distribution and Marketing If I Get Out Alive is being distributed over the National Public Radio Satellite System to more than 530 public radio stations nationwide, with a total of 17 million regular listeners.
Call your local public radio station for the broadcast date and time in your area. If I Get Out Alive, will also be available on audio cassette for home use and educational outreach purposes. An educational kit, as with our other radio programs, will be developed for use by public policy makers, schools, universities and for distribution to local advocacy organizations.

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