MSNBC documentary gives a voice to youth sentenced as adults
Editor's Note: "Young Kids, Hard Time" originally aired November 20th. MSNBC will re-air it on Saturday, November 26th, at 2 pm PST / 5 pm EST.
There are many imperfections in the nation’s criminal justice system. So many, it’s hard to know where to start.
Take your pick: The public defender system, death row, life without parole or the whole idea of housing convicts together in hopes of rehabilitating them.
Poke around a bit. You’ll find some disturbing problems. None, however, will shake you to the core like seeing a child doing hard time behind bars, serving a sentence twice as long as he is old.
This is what you get in “Young Kids, Hard Time,” an MSNBC documentary premiering Sunday night at 10 p.m. EST.
Here is a film that shines a light on a very dark side of the criminal justice system: the more than 200,000 kids who are tried, sentenced and incarcerated as adults. Sometimes busted in their early teens, these children remain in the juvenile system until they reach the age of 18. This is when they are transferred to adult population facilities where they serve the rest of their sentence with some of the country’s most brutal and hardened criminals.
“Young Kids, Hard Time” shows what life is like for these incarcerated young people and examines the possible long-term impact on society.
It is a tough and complicated subject, but we, and this project, are in good hands. Calamari Productions has spent more than a decade creating programming that focuses on matters of child welfare and juvenile justice. The company has won more than a dozen awards for documentaries and other productions that they’ve created on behalf of children.
In “Young Kids, Hard Time,” we watch as cameras go inside Wabash Valley Correctional Facility in Carlisle, Ind. In the facility’s Youth Incarceration unit there are 53 kids who were sentenced as adults.
Among them is 15 year-old Colt Lundy, who is serving a 30- year sentence for the murder of his stepfather.
Lundy, who never had any brushes with the law prior to the murder, tells us, “I spent five months in county, and if they would have let me out then, that would’ve been enough of a wake-up call for me.”
The first thing you notice about this boy is the fear in his wide eyes that accompany his seemingly prepubescent voice. The heinous nature of his crime has not erased the innocence that marks the face of anyone his age.
As these young people tell their stories, it becomes clear that some had problems that went ignored long before they ever reached Wabash Valley. It is also clear they will continue to be ignored, right through to the end of their sentence when they are released into society often without counseling and rehabilitation.
“Young Kids, Hard Time” stays focused. It never veers off into the details of the cases of the youth offenders. It shows viewers that — regardless of the magnitude of the crime that has been committed — the issue is children and how they are treated in the justice system.
Akua Henderson is a contributing writer for the Juvenile Justice Information Exchange. She has a particular interest in education and social justice. Her volunteer work includes mentoring at Title I schools and projects with Junior Achievement.