Social Movements in Juvenile Prisons: An Investigation.

AuthorCox, Alexandra L.

After a recent lecture I gave on my research about the experiences of incarcerated teenagers, an audience member asked if I had ever encountered any young people in the juvenile prisons that I studied who engaged in organized resistance or protest. I had grappled with this question during my research about juvenile prisons, (1) but also while I taught in them as the Pelican Bay prisoner hunger strikers fought to end solitary confinement and as my university-based students participated in Black Lives Matter protests. Why was there such an absence of organized, collective action among the young people in the juvenile facilities that I studied? (2)

Young people's engagement in social activism and movements has been highly visible in the last decade and has a long and significant history, from the work of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee during the Southern freedom movement, to the youth members of Occupy Wall Street and Black Lives Matter (Noguera & Cannella 2006,Taft 2011). According to a survey conducted by the Higher Education Research Institute and the UCLA Graduate School of Education and Information Studies, one in 10 first-year students entering colleges across the United States in 2016 expected to participate in protests, the highest number in the history of the survey, which began in 1966 (Higher Education Research Institute 2016). Youth activists have also engaged in movements to resist the building of youth jails in jurisdictions across the United States (Taft 2011,Tilton 2010). However, there is little documented participation by teenagers inside of juvenile prisons in social movements and protests, despite the participation by members of their age cohort in protest movements elsewhere and by adults in prisons who spent time in juvenile facilities as teenagers.

This article examines the obstacles to protest in a juvenile prison landscape where young people are deemed at once in need of management and control and in possession of a strong capacity to engage in self-change. Juvenile prisons are often viewed by their staff members as tinderboxes of violence and chaos, where young people can erupt at any moment (Abrams et al. 2008, Lopez-Aguado 2018, Peterson-Badali & Koegl 2002). However, at the same time, these places are often constructed by reformers as containers of seemingly vulnerable young people in need of protection (Bernstein 2014, Task Force on Transforming Juvenile Justice 2009). This mix of moralizing, punitive, and paternalistic perspectives, I argue, is combustible--it creates a space where young people who are incarcerated are treated in a highly controlled and controlling environment. This form of "repressive welfarism" (Phoenix 2009) does not necessarily prevent young people from engaging in a critique of the state, but it makes the operationalization and recognition of that critique extremely difficult. In her work on approaches to the socalled problem child, largely racialized, of the carceral state, Erica Meiners (2017, 128) argues that children can represent "radical liberatory futures." In this article, I probe the ways that these radical liberatory futures are often squelched in juvenile prisons.

I argue that the current approach to juvenile imprisonment in the United States involves the regulation and control of young people's bodies and minds, in a way that uniquely reflects the stifling effects of paternalism, welfarism, and punitiveness. This form of penal power arguably results not only in the squelching of dissent, but also in a stultifying of what are arguably developmentally appropriate reactions to social inequalities. It does not lead to the total elimination of resistance or young people's ability to refuse the terms of their confinement, but it makes their ability to engage in organized resistance extremely difficult. Young adults have been at the center of social movements that have transformed our policies and attitudes toward racialized social control, war and violence, and colonial power, among other forms of power. Thus, juvenile prisons are spaces of exception to the actually quite prevalent role that protest movements have played in prisons around the world. The article will begin with some context about prison-based protest movements and will then shed fight on the responses by the state to organized resistance, in particular in shaping the avenues for engaging in resistance. I then draw on a piece of empirical research to illustrate some of the institutional modes of repression that exist in contemporary juvenile prisons.

Prison-Based Protest Movements: Some Brief Context

There is a long history of prison uprising, protest movements, and activism in adult prisons (Abu-Jamal & Fernandez 2014; Adams 1994; Berger 2014; Berger & Losier 2018; Chase 2015; Thompson 2014, 2016; Useem &. Kimball 1991). Yet in this voluminous history, there is almost no mention of acts of organized resistance that have occurred in juvenile prisons or facilities. For the most part, the documented history of movements largely suggests that organized opposition and resistance, in the form of uprisings, strikes, riots, and protests, have been confined to adult prisons. However, there is some work that has documented the early exposure of adult prison social movement organizers to juvenile prisons, from the Soledad brothers to members of the Black Panther Party (Berger 2014, Murch 2010).

Myers and Sangster (2001) document the collective actions and protest of girls in the Canadian reform school system in the early part of the twentieth century, and they and others point to the nuanced ways that young people have refused the terms of their incarceration, such as through the act of running away from facilities (see also Chavez-Garcia 2012, Child 1999, Pickett 1969, Platt 2018). "Riots" or uprisings themselves are not unheard of in the juvenile facility landscape, and the contemporary public media regularly documents these incidents. (3) Other scholars focus on the emotion work that young people do inside of facilities and the ways that they may engage in acts of deviance as a form of resistance to the pains of imprisonment (Abrams Sc Anderson-Nathe 2013, Cesaroni Sc Alvi 2010, Fader 2013, Halsey 2007, Lopez-Aguado 2018, Reich 2010).There are also unrecognized or undocumented forms of refusal and resistance, for which there is no official archive (Hartman 2019). Although this work reveals the important contours of young people's agency within custody within the sociological discourse of agency and structure, we know less about the ways that young people engage in political and legal critiques of the conditions that they find themselves in; this is consistent with broader gaps in the literature on youth participation (Taft 2011).

The Changing Landscape of Grievances and Complaints

Protests and social movements have arguably transformed the prison landscape in ways that have facilitated the end of punitive practices, the expansion of civil liberties and rights, and the introduction of liberatory epistemologies within the prison landscape. Goldstone and Useem (1999) argue that prison riots are a productive site for examining the conditions of social movements more broadly, for it is the very conditions and context of the prison itself which reflect the social dynamics of the outside world.

After a large number of publicly documented disturbances that took place in prisons in the late 1960s and early 1970s, with 48 such incidents in the United States in 1972 (Chase 2015), there was increasing recognition by mainstream institutions like the American Correctional Association and the National Council on Crime and Delinquency that the rights of people who were imprisoned needed to be recognized through more formalized processes (Baker 1985).That set into motion the formalization of complaint procedures in prisons and juvenile facilities across the country, including the introduction of ombudsmen, the implementation of grievance procedures, and the formalization of so-called inmate councils, although such councils had existed in one form or another in juvenile facilities since the first reformatory was established in New York in the early nineteenth century (ibid.). Recognizing that the establishment of these processes "pays several dividends" (ibid., 59), prison administrators began to recognize that they also became mechanisms for information gathering and surveillance, as well as building legitimacy for their efforts.

Between 1970 and 1996, the number of civil rights lawsuits initiated by people in prison jumped by 400 percent, in part as a result of a federal case Cooper V. Pate, which opened the way for incarcerated people to challenge the practices of prison officials in federal court (Chase 2015). However, the introduction of the US federal Prison Litigation Reform Act (PLRA) in 1996 created enormous hurdles for people in prison to challenge the conditions of confinement and altered the landscape of resistance significanctly (Chase 2015, Human Rights Watch 2009). As a result, the number of lawsuits fell by 43 percent between 1996 and 2015 (Chase 2015). The PLRA also transformed the landscape of prison-based grievances, arguably most negatively affecting young people. The PLRA has what is called an exhaustion requirement, which demands that a person in prison file a grievance with the prison administration. Once or if that grievance is unaddressed, then the incarcerated person has to file an appeal to that grievance to the central state correctional agency. They need to continue with the appeal until it reaches the highest court in the state if they want to file a lawsuit against the correctional facility (Poser 2016).

Other developments in the area of prison litigation and in US law have created even more restrictions for young people than for adults. Juvenile prisons seem to have largely been neglected in the introduction of law libraries, for instance. The 1977 US...

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