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The Criminalization of Latino Youth Introduction We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness… The Declaration of Independence, July 4, 1776…
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Download file to see previous pages The ‘Mother of Exiles’ beckoned with the words ‘Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,’ and in response they come, many from the neighbours to the south. They sought salvation from their tribulations and the chance to dream of a better tomorrow; little did they know that they would be condemned to a persecuted life, betrayed by the colour of their skin and the language that they speak. The criminalization of the young At a glance, there appears to be something incongruous in the phrase ‘criminalization of the young.’ Probably under any modern criminal code in the world, young offenders are exempted from being prosecuted for any crime, save for the most violent, and are given every chance at rehabilitation. This is because as a rule, the young are considered bereft of ill-will, incapable of the level of evil or malice, the mens rea, that is the essence of the criminal act. And yet, there is such a thing as the criminalization – the creation of criminals – among the young. Contemporary society has developed a set of practices, targeted at the young of particular minority groups, which tend to skew their development towards increasingly aberrant behavior. Here, we are not speaking of those deviant social elements which are out to corrupt the innocent. We speak of those stewards of social order, the guardians and inculcators of virtue – the police officers, the school teachers, the parents themselves, and similar persons endowed with authority and regarded with high deference within the contemporary social order. There are several mechanisms by which criminalization of the young takes place. For instance, the zero tolerance policy, also known as the “school-to-prison pipeline” ‘refers to the policies and practices that push our nation’s schoolchildren, especially our most at-risk children, out of classrooms and into the juvenile and criminal justice systems’ (H). It is evidenced by the perceptible rise in school based arrests, which ‘most directly exemplifies the criminalization of school children.’ (H) Oftentimes, zero tolerance becomes a tool for racial prejudice because ‘students of color are far more likely than their white peers to be suspended, expelled, or arrested for the same kind of conduct.’ (H) The school is also the unwitting agent of another criminalization mechanism known as the cumulative disadvantage. Together with the zero tolerance policy, cumulative disadvantage takes place when children, suspended or expelled from school for a reason often not of their own fault, are ‘left unsupervised and without constructive activities; they also can easily fall behind in their coursework, leading to a greater likelihood of disengagement and drop-outs’ (H). There are numerous statistics that support these assertions, but compelling as they are, the numbers are not as persuasive as the accounts of the very individuals caught in this self-perpetuating system of prejudice and criminalization. Individuals of the black and Latino communities are particularly vulnerable targets, and the subsequent section shall deal with the plight of Latino youth who are victimized by this oppressive system. The cumulative disadvantage of the Latino young It is not surprising that the members of society who find themselves trapped in the grip of cumulative disadvantage are those who are among the most economically deprived Nearly one out of every three Americans living below ...Download file to see next pagesRead More
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