Beaten as a child, she dropped out of school and ran away from home at age 11.

Now almost 20, Myra is serving 50 years to life in a California state prison – and has a young child whom she is permitted to see only once a year.

One of 15 randomly chosen juvenile prisoners chosen to participate in a documentary titled “Juvies,” Myra was a victim of domestic abuse. Her childhood led her down the wrong road. Tried as an adult several years before she was one, she is now serving a sentence not intended for minors.

By trying youths as adults and failing to provide adequate education in prisons, the American juvenile criminal justice system robs children of their human dignity, said Catholic chaplain Javier Stauring to a group of students and administrators Monday.

“We’re not talking about monsters here,” said Stauring. “We’re talking about human beings. We’re talking about children.”

Before age 18, a person is not considered an adult and is not given adult privileges or responsibilities. Under 18, a youth cannot vote. Nor can he defend his country. Still, 2000 minors are tried in court as adults each year.

Stauring blames the media and politicians for perpetuating the myth that juvenile crime is out of control. Both parties play on the fears of their audiences who become convinced that many accused youths should be treated as adults.

While it is important to make communities safer, Stauring said that problems arise when juveniles enter the country’s criminal justice system and are treated as adults.

“We ensure that they come out angrier,” he said. “They’re going to learn how to be better criminals.”

In the Los Angeles men’s county jail, there is one module for 40 juveniles in the midst of 7000 adult prisoners. In order to provide adequate safety, the young prisoners are kept entirely separate from the adults.

Juveniles are locked up for 23 ½ hours each day in 4 by 8-foot cells. Within each concrete-floored cell is a two-inch mattress, a toilet and sink. Teachers stop by every other day to drop off schoolwork but must communicate through bars, as prisoners aren’t allowed out even for this.

The children leave their cells only on Friday afternoons, during which time they are taken to individual “cages” on the roof where they may use a dip bar or phone for one to three hours.

“We go halfway around the world to fight for other people’s freedom,” said Stauring, “and this is the most incarcerated country… [A juvenile has] no education, no mental health [programs], no training for jobs when he comes out.”

With better education and treatment within the prison system, juveniles are offered hope for their futures. If they are given training, there is a chance for them to be hired by employers upon their release from prison.

Stauring also stressed the importance of restorative justice, which recognizes the needs of both victims and offenders. The victim, offender, and community members meet to discuss the situation.

“What we’re doing now costs more than rehabilitation programs would,” Stauring said. “If you spent money on them, get them trained, they wouldn’t come back [to prison]. They’d get jobs, pay taxes.

Stauring is co-director of detention ministries for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. Since 1995, he has been the chaplain at the Central Juvenile Hall in Los Angeles. He is also policy director for Faith Communities for Families and Children. This Los-Angeles-area interfaith alliance promotes improvement in the juvenile justice system.

Stauring, along with activists from Egypt and Liberia, will be honored for his work as a human rights defender on November 12 in New York City. The Human Rights Watch will honor Stauring for arguing for better detention conditions for youths tried as adults in this country.

“He has a very big heart,” said Father McGregor, who attended the lecture and worked with Stauring in Los Angeles.

Many present were shocked to hear about the treatment of juveniles.

“I had no idea of the extreme measures taken against juveniles in the prison system,” said Erin Spongberg, ’06.

Brian Wielk, ’06, was less surprised, but agreed with many things Stauring discussed.

“He was very informative,” Wielk said. “We need to amend the way we treat juveniles in the criminal justice system

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