I am always astonished by the immense cruelty of prosecutors who place vulnerable young people at mortal risk by direct-filing kids into the adult system. The other day I quoted Brown County Indiana prosecutor Jim Oliver who said that justice was served in prosecuting then-13-year-old Blade Reed, a sixth-grader, as an adult and placing Blade in an adult prison.
“He committed an adult crime and he has received adult consequences,” Oliver said after the trial and sentencing.
Let’s look at those “adult consequences” and ask if they are justified in the case of any sixth-grader, but specifically this sixth-grader who, because of a lifetime of abuse, actually had the mental capacity of an eight- to ten-year-old at the time of the crime.
Blade was sent to Wabash Valley Correctional Institution, and arrived there on Christmas Eve in 2009. These are some of the “adult consequences” this vulnerable boy has suffered since then:
January 6, 2010 – A much older inmate attempts to rape Blade. Blade fought back and there was a heated verbal altercation. Blade was written up and received 2 weeks in solitary confinement as well as the loss of 15 days of his 2-for-1 good time.
March 4, 2010 – Blade had a temperature of 100, and refused to attend class that day. He was written up for his refusal and lost phone and recreation privileges for 1 week.
March 29, 2010 – A much older inmate raped Blade in the shower. Blade was punished with 15 days in solitary confinement, 15 days loss of 2-for-1 good time, and loss of phone privileges for 1 month.
April 16, 2010 – Blade attempted suicide by slitting his wrists. He was punished with the loss of 2 more weeks of phone privileges, and loss of recreation privileges for 2 weeks.
April 22, 2010 – Upset that his room was disrupted by guards during a search, Blade refused to clean up the mess. He was written up for refusing to obey an order, but received no other punishment.
April 30, 2010 –Blade retrieved a basketball during recreation without asking the guard first. He was written up for being in an unauthorized area, and lost recreation and commissary privileges for 2 weeks.
May 24, 2010 – Following horse-playing with his roommate (the first roommate he had since his arrival at Wabash), Blade was written up for disruptive, unruly, and rowdy conduct. He lost recreation and phone privileges for 2 weeks.
May 27, 2010 – Blade tattoos himself and cuts his arm. He was written up for disfigurement and lost recreation, phone, and commissary privileges for 2 more weeks.
June 7, 2010 – Blade was raped again by another inmate in the shower, and cut with a razor. Blade managed to get the razor away from his assailant after being cut, and cut the other inmate. Blade was punished with 1 year solitary confinement.
July 22, 2010 – Blade shut down while coming back from the showers, and dropped to the floor in a fetal position. The guards said Blade kicked one of them (causing a bruised rib) while they were cuffing and shackling him. Blade was written up and received 1 additional month of solitary confinement.
August 2, 2010 – Blade attempts suicide a second time by slitting his wrists. He is punished with 2 more weeks of solitary confinement.
August 5, 2010 – Blade attempts suicide a third time by slitting his wrists. He is punished with 2 more weeks of solitary confinement. He was also written up for covering the camera monitor in his solitary cell, and was punished with 3 more weeks of solitary confinement.
August 12, 2010 – Blade attempts suicide a fourth time by cutting his arm. He is punished with 1 month additional solitary confinement. Blade was also written up for resisting while being restrained by staff, and was punished with 1 more month of solitary confinement.
August 14, 2010 – Blade was severely beaten in the solitary shower area by another inmate. After he was injured, Blade once again managed to get the weapon away from and cut the attacker in self-defense. Blade was punished with 6 months additional time in solitary confinement.
August 26, 2010 – Blade was assaulted and injured again in the solitary shower area by another inmate. Blade managed to defend himself and get the weapon away from his assailant. Blade was punished with 6 months additional time in solitary confinement and loss of all 2-for-1 good time.
September 5 and 6, 2010 – Blade was written up again for covering camera monitor in his solitary confinement cell.
September 10, 2010 – Blade was injured during a takedown by staff. He resisted, received a write-up, and of course was punished with 1 more month of solitary confinement.
September 12, 2010 – While recuperating in the medical unit from his staff-inflicted injuries, Blade was injured by another inmate. Blade tried to get the weapon away from the other inmate, and was injured again by staff trying to subdue him and “de-escalate” the situation. Because Blade resisted, he was written up and punished with 6 months of additional solitary confinement time, and placed on “habitual violator” status. Because a desk was broken during the “de-escalation,” Blade was also written up for destruction of state property.
Let’s summarize these “adult consequences” to which Jim Oliver so glibly alluded for the benefit of the media and Brown County voters.
Over only an 8-month 12-day period of time in an adult prison, Blade Reed was raped two times and almost three, attacked by other inmates three times with weapons (shanks or razors), seriously injured by staff once, attempted suicide four times, lost all gain-time, lost recreation, phone and commissary privileges, and had numerous psychological episodes for which he received inadequate therapy and an excess of severe punishment (which only exacerbated his mental health issues).
He had been condemned to 2 years, 8 months, and 18 days of solitary confinement, which has been shown to be “cruel and unusual” punishment, especially for mentally-ill inmates whose conditions only deteriorate under such conditions. Until Blade’s advocate Stephen hired attorneys to remedy this abusive and damaging treatment, Blade had been scheduled to remain in solitary confinement until at least August of 2012.
It is important to realize that these events occurred only two-thirds of the way into the first year of a thirty-year sentence, and that Blade’s autism and untreated ADHD and PTSD do not offer much hope that he will ever be able to successfully navigate life in an adult prison. If we were to extrapolate his experiences onto a thirty-year time period, this would mean this vulnerable young man could be raped 88 times, attacked with weapons 88 times, injured by staff 29 times, and might attempt suicide 117 times—if he even survives long enough for this litany of horrors to play out.
Is this what Mr. Oliver has in mind when he speaks about “adult consequences”? What kind of adult would inflict such a future on a sixth-grader with the mental capacity of an eight-year-old? An adult, most assuredly, who is himself morally retarded.
“Our attorneys did manage to get Blade out of solitary, placed in the youthful offenders wing, and into a 2-man cell with someone Blade likes and who likes him,” Stephen said. Things have improved markedly for Blade since then. However, he is still in physical danger.
“My questions are and always have been: Why would you allow an inmate who had depression issues—and who had attempted suicide before—why would you allow him to continue to buy razors through the commissary? Also, with the repeated attacks on Blade, why were guards and staff never present? Did they want the attacks to happen?” Steven asked.
“Being placed in solitary confinement, there should have been guards in the shower area, as that is a maximum security section of the prison. We have always thought the repeated attacks on Blade were an inside job, but we can’t prove it,” he said.
The true conditions of prison life are not unknown to judges and prosecutors. Jim Oliver has to have known the hell he was sending Blade Reed into. His hands are not clean.
He was warned in court—on the record—when Dr. Tonya Foreman, the psychiatrist hired by the court to evaluate Reed’s mental and emotional state, took the stand, and warned: ““If he goes and develops in an adult model center, he will be influenced by the other inmates.”
Blade’s defense attorney James Roberts reiterated the warning in even stronger terms. Roberts argued that state penal codes are founded on reformation and not on vindictiveness. He said Blade Reed was a child who fell through the cracks in social service programs, and that the biggest risk for the community would be to put Blade in an adult prison with no education and criminals as his role models. “I can’t think of a better formula to release a monster on society,” Roberts said.
Oliver scoffed it all off claiming, “This psychiatric examination is biased. This started with the idea that no 13-year-old should go to prison and went from there.” And then as a last word, Mr. Oliver made the standard argument one hears from prosecutors for retribution: he questioned what he called the “prison” that the widow of the murder victim must be living in, asking the judge to consider her feelings.
Yes, she may be living in a kind of prison. Yet it is not a prison in which she must live in constant fear of rape and physical assaults or be forced to endure solitary confinement. I cannot imagine that, no matter how great her anguish, she would think it right that the boy who showed her mercy and refused to follow orders to murder her should suffer as much as Blade has suffered.
Seems to me we need to be thinking in terms of what kinds of “adult consequences” are appropriate for Mr. Oliver and other prosecutors of his kind.
Groove of the Day