MANSFIELD: Real Juvenile Justice


The riot at the Juvenile Detention Center a week or so ago should serve as a wake-up call: We have a huge thug problem here in Cuyahoga County that needs to be addressed.

Now, before someone (or a bunch of someones) get all up in arms regarding my using the term “thug” to identify these underage miscreants, they should first hit the pause button. My calling them something less accurate, such as “juvenile offenders” or “wayward youth,” while perhaps sounding less pejorative, will not make them any less dangerous or make the crimes they are incarcerated for committing any less heinous. I’m talking about the gangbangers that shoot at people and stick guns in folk’s faces as they carjack.

We have to face the fact that these are some ill-raised young criminals, and for all of the bleeding hearts that posit that these are merely misguided youth, I say to them, “Let me see you take these young men home with you so they can terrorize your community and then let me know how you feel.” Those of us who actually live in the communities where these thugs spray stray bullets and far too frequently injure innocent bystanders —often children — possess the most authentic voices in these matters.

At some point we have to be willing to admit that efforts at triage have come too late for some young offenders. The only appropriate solution is to lock them away until they no longer pose a danger to society — and to themselves. And in some instances that could take upward of a decade until they grow out of what is called their “stinkin’ thinkin.’”

But we can rest assured that moves are being made to prevent similar incidents from occurring. The facility will be turned into a juvenile version of a maximum security prison. And as much as I might find this troubling, protection of staff has to be of highest priority, followed closely by the protection of other prisoners, and lastly, the protection of property.

The good news is that out of the 120 or so prisoners, only a dozen or so elected to participate in the riotous behavior; the rest stayed out of the way. The bad news is, under the new protocols that will be established, all youth will most likely suffer equally from the crackdown.

Clearly there is enough blame to go around, and state legislators bear the lion’s share of it. They ruled that juveniles cannot be housed in adult facilities, but they failed to take into account that some of these bad actors are not really juveniles … they just happen to be under the age of 18. These essentially grown men should not be housed with — or treated like — juveniles.

If that means setting aside pods for these violent gangbangers, then so be it. And judges should be swifter to transfer their cases to adult court, where they actually belong. These thugs have to be incarnated until they no longer pose a threat to the citizenry.

But the better, least costly and more humane way of dealing with youth that have taken up the gun is to prevent them from doing so in the first place — and it really isn’t all that hard. But it does take hard-nosed assessment and real commitment.

When it’s evident that a young man is headed down that path of violence, real intervention has to take place, and I’m talking about at 11, 12 and 13 years old. When said child can’t read at grade level and begins the process of dropping out of school (with no caregiver handling the problem), hanging out all night, and running with a tough crowd, that child needs to be removed from the home and placed in a privately run residential educational facility. One that has strong black role models on staff and a curriculum that teaches basic skills that will allow them to enter the skilled trades upon graduation. If they eventually want to go on to attend college, so much the better.

The key is, if the child is left in home — which means in the community — the chance of saving that child goes down exponentially. It’s virtually impossible to do. Indeed, wealthier parents handle the problem like this all the time: they ship their wayward sons off to boarding or military school.

Now, before the idea is rejected out of hand citing the cost, do the math. Four years at such a school might run as high as $125,000. Now, contrast that to the average cost of incarcerating a juvenile: $400 per day, or $146,000 per year. Or, to continue the math, $584,000 for four years. Yes, that’s what you and I are paying via our tax dollars. We really should be outraged at the inefficiency.

I know some folks who have been trying to get just such a residential school off the ground, but without success, and I think I know why: Right-wing Americans (who often control the purse strings) just love stories of youth running amok, destroying property and otherwise posing a danger to society. This allows them to remain rooted in the faulty beliefs that “nothing can be done to help these people, these underclass youth. They’re just savages, it’s in their DNA.”

In this manner they can justify all of the wrong-headed and mean-spirited policies that have been enacted and perpetuated against the underclass and persons of color for decades. My wife, who holds a masters degree in social work from one of the premier schools in the country (Michigan), simply shakes her head and says to me, “Honey, the solutions have been known for years; they simply are not really interested in solving the problem. If they were, it would have been solved.”

Hard to argue with that logic.

From CoolCleveland correspondent Mansfield B. Frazier Frazier’s From Behind The Wall: Commentary on Crime, Punishment, Race and the Underclass by a Prison Inmate is available in hardback. Snag your copy and have it signed by the author at


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One Response to “MANSFIELD: Real Juvenile Justice”

  1. Harry

    Yes, Mansfield You Are Right And So Is Your Wife. The Out Of Wedlock Birthrate Is Another Underlying Factor In The Disintegration Of These Young Men Lives And Their Destructive Choices.

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