From the bestselling and critically acclaimed author of The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace comes a timely, insightful, and groundbreaking look at the school-to-prison pipeline and life in the juvenile “justice” system.
There has been very little written about juvenile detention and the path to justice. For many kids, a mistake made at age thirteen or fourteen—often resulting from external factors coupled with a biologically immature brain—can resonate through the rest of their lives, making high school difficult, college nearly impossible, and a middle-class life a mere fantasy. Here, in Children of the State, Jeff Hobbs challenges any preconceived perceptions about how the juvenile justice system works—and demonstrates in brilliant, piercing prose: No one so young should ever be considered irredeemable.
Writing with great heart and sensitivity, Hobbs presents three different true stories that show the day-to-day life and the challenges faced by those living and working in juvenile programs: educators, counselors, and—most importantly—children. While serving a year-long detention in Wilmington, Delaware—one of the violent crime capitols of America—a bright young man considers both the benefits and the immense costs of striving for college acceptance while imprisoned. A career juvenile hall English Language Arts teacher struggles to align the small moments of wonder in her work alongside its statistical futility, all while the San Francisco city government considers a new juvenile system without cinderblocks—and possibly without teachers. A territorial fistfight in Paterson, New Jersey is called a hate crime by the media and the boy held accountable seeks redemption and friendship in a demanding Life & Professional Skills class in lower Manhattan. Through these stories, Hobbs creates intimate portraits of these individuals as they struggle to make good decisions amidst the challenges of overcoming their pasts, and also asks: What should society do with young people who have made terrible mistakes?
Just as he did with The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace, Jeff Hobbs has crafted a gorgeous, captivating, and transcendent work of journalism with tremendous emotional power. Intimate and profound, relevant and revelatory, Children of the State masterfully blends personal stories with larger questions about race, class, prison reform, justice, and even about the concept of “fate.”
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“Touching and intimate, enraging and honest.”
Matthew Desmond, Pulitzer Prize–winning author