Juveniles Behind Bars

Diego Suarez Jail, Madagascar.These escapees who were caught and charged with prison-breaking have been locked up in this windowless dungeon measuring one meter by three (3.3 x 9 feet) and will spend a week in total darkness, with no visits. Up to twelve prisoners can be held in the dungeon where they cannot even stretch their legs.Photo by Lizzie Sadin

Diego Suarez Jail, Madagascar.These escapees who were caught and charged with prison-breaking have been locked up in this windowless dungeon measuring one meter by three (3.3 x 9 feet) and will spend a week in total darkness, with no visits. Up to twelve prisoners can be held in the dungeon where they cannot even stretch their legs.Photo by Lizzie Sadin

The way a nation state treats its prisoners can be a good indicator of the quality of the nation’s democracy. More than a million children around the world are in custody without any recourse to lawyers specializing in juvenile affairs.

The 1989 UN Convention on the Rights of the Child stipulates that no child shall be deprived of freedom in any unlawful or arbitrary way and that detention “shall be used only as a measure of last resort and for the shortest appropriate period of time”.

Still, numbers of prisons, penitentiary camps, penal colonies keep young detainees in not only repressive and arbitrary conditions, but also humiliating and inhumane: often held with adults or in overcrowded cells where they are subjected to violence, abuse, rackets, gangs, prostitution, promiscuity, malnutrition, without education or medical care.

I wanted to show the juvenile justice in eleven different geopolitical countries: in peace and in conflict, in democratic and authoritarian regimes. I encountered enormous difficulties in getting authorizations during the eight years devoted to this project: eighteen months of procedure for only 90 minutes in avprison in Russia, three years in the US. I made requests to around sixty countries and visited sixty detention centers.

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