“Kids Behind Bars” Documentary Series

The Indiana Department of Correction Wabash Valley Correctional Facility unit that houses juveniles who are sentenced as adults was featured in a documentary series, Kids Behind Bars, that recently aired in the United Kingdom.  Among the children who were featured was Blake Layman, one of the so-called “Elkhart 4.”  At the time this post was written, there were no links to the documentary that allowed it to be viewed in the United States. A previous episode of the Kids Behind Bars documentary series focused on the thousands of children who are locked up around the world, including children in the United States.  The earlier documentary can be viewed here.

A review of the most recent episode appeared on August 6, 2014, in The Guardian newspaper in England, which read:

“Kids Behind Bars (ITV) bore all the hallmarks of a bleak examination of America’s broken justice system. But it wasn’t that, quite. Yes, it was about teenagers doing unimaginable stretches in a maximum security facility big enough to have a dedicated block for underage offenders. But there was also an emphasis on the humanity at work behind the fences. Block D staff take seriously their obligation to raise and educate deeply troubled boys, in an environment designed to offer shelter from the general prison population.

Lest we forget, they are also boys who have committed serious crimes. To be tried as an adult in the state of Indiana, you must have repeatedly reoffended in the youth system, or done something of a particularly horrific nature. Jesus, aged 17, is serving 65 years for murder. Marquise, meanwhile, is serving 15 years for aggravated battery, a charge that rather obscures the nature of his offence: he joined his mother and uncle in a concerted attack that left the victim dead of a gunshot wound. “They charged me like a man,” he said. “I’m gonna step up like a man and do my time.” Having turned 18, he will soon be moving in with the adult prisoners.

For some of the boys it’s likely that prison provides a more stable home environment than anything life outside has to offer. “We have several in there right now that have seen a parent kill another parent,” said case worker Alita.

This was a sobering look at an intractable problem; it left one feeling that Block D was a regrettable but wholly necessary part of the penal landscape, a place where young offenders are cared for as children by a state that didn’t have the sense to try them as children. But if you were simply looking to be outraged by America’s broken justice system, you needed to look no further than Blake, who just turned 18 in jail. Blake’s crime – committed when he was 16 – was to break into what he thought was an empty house with four of his friends, only for one of them to be shot dead by the homeowner while the rest cowered in a closet. Under Indiana law, it is possible for the four surviving burglars to be charged with the murder of their friend. Blake is currently serving a 55-year sentence.”

For more information on the Elkhart 4 case, see this prior post.

The post “Kids Behind Bars” Documentary Series first appeared on the Indiana Juvenile Justice Blog.

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