The Impact of Imprisonment at Sixteen

Copied below is a letter I wrote to Andrew Cuomo, Governor of New York recently when they were considering Raise the Age legislation.

My name is Makaiya Wilson, and I am from Brooklyn, New York. The issue I am coming to you with is the law that allows 16-year-olds to be tried and sentenced to prison as adults. The law not only affects me but it is affecting my community. It takes my brothers away from me. The boys I am referring to are not necessarily blood-related, but they come from the same places I do. It makes us family. I also say, brothers, because boys get harder sentencing and being Black doesn’t help them in the criminal justice system.

One of my brothers who was taken away was Kalief Browder. He was only 16 when he was put in jail for allegedly stealing a backpack. He spent three years in Rikers without even having a trial. While being imprisoned, he suffered from abuse from the correctional officers and the gangs that were inside. It was believed the officers worked with the gangs to have Kalief jumped.

The part his story that resonates with me is the part where he spends most of his time in solitary confinement. In solitary, the inmate would be in one room for 23 hours out of the day and only let out to go outside in what is technically a human cage for an hour a day. Kalief spent a total of 800 days in Rikers out of the 1000 days he was there. He killed himself after two years of being released.

New York is only one of two states that allow 16-year-olds to be tried as adults in court. The state is ignoring the research that science confirmed as to why this should not be allowed. The adolescent brain is still developing including the cognitive skills which deal with behavior. This means that the behavior of a teenager is impulsive and they will not be able to focus on the consequences of the actions as an adult would. The result of jail time is faced mostly by Blacks or Latinos. 72 percent of arrests made are misdemeanors and more than 6000 children ages 13-15 are still put into criminal court.

The state needs to raise the age because the lives of young individuals are at stake. Being incarcerated in adult jails could cause mental and physical abuse. Even after being released from prison, 34 percent are most likely to be rearrested for violent crimes. 

Image Source: Public Domain, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=43982013

CC BY-SA 4.0 The Impact of Imprisonment at Sixteen by Makaiya is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

4 Comments
  1. Profile photo of Audriyana
    Audriyana 2 weeks ago

    This is very well written. I agree with you that we should raise the age.

  2. Jerome S 2 weeks ago

    Hi, Makaiya, I really enjoyed reading your blog post. I really understand where you coming from because I am to black, and have had brothers taken from me many ways, not just to the criminal justice system. I am very sorry to hear what happened to your close friend. You pointed out a very good reason why we teenagers shouldn’t be charged as adults. Our brains are in an important time in their life, they are growing a lot and learning. If we are locked up in a human cage then I don’t think we will be able to fit in as adults coming out of prison/jail.

  3. Profile photo of Maddie
    Maddie 2 weeks ago

    This is very well written and inspiring. I agree that something needs to be done about this issue- teens are too young to face some of the charges that adults do. I do think that teens are old enough to face consequences of their actions, but for this to be true, we need a fair and just system- not one that judges on account of race. We should be focusing on how we can help people, not just punish them.

  4. Profile photo of Giselle
    Giselle 2 weeks ago

    I did not about the Kalief Browder story, but I agree that it is one of the many examples of injustice with the justice system and the prison system. I recently wrote about the effects of prison, and I think that my research explains the mental health issues he developed following his jail time. This link might help you find out about what issues inmates develop https://aspe.hhs.gov/basic-report/psychological-impact-incarceration-implications-post-prison-adjustment

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