The Hardest Lesson on Tier 2C, Can a Violent Adult Jail Teach Kids to Love School?

The Marshall Project with This American Life

By Eli Hager

It was Juron’s second day in the New Orleans jail and he was bewildered. At 17 years old, he had been arrested for the first time and charged as an adult for allegedly taking a woman’s cell phone during an argument and firing a gun into the air, which he denied. His mother couldn’t afford bail, so he would be locked up for months until a trial, sleeping on a hard slab. If he was convicted — a possibility he could barely acknowledge — he faced 15 to 104 years in state prison.

Yet there was a deputy, waking him up on a Monday morning in February, telling him he had to go to school.

“I was like, school? I’m not going to the school,” Juron said later. “I go to school in the world. I’m not about to adjust to no school.”

Being a teen charged as an adult is a lesson in dizzying mixed messages. You’re too young to vote or drink, maybe even to drive, and you’ve been told that kids can grow and change. Yet your own future is set out in the starkest terms: years or decades in prison followed by a lifelong criminal record.

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