San Jose Youth Respond to County Plan to Use Pepper Spray in Juvenile Hall

San Jose Youth Respond to County Plan to Use Pepper Spray in Juvenile Hall

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photo:  Graphic by A.D. Avila

Editor's note:
Starting this month, Santa Clara Juvenile Hall staff will be allowed to use pepper spray on youth. The policy was not vetted through public discussion, but rather was negotiated in by the Probation Peace Officers Union. The Mercury News reports concerns from advocates, experts, and judges. De-Bug asked San Jose teenagers their thoughts. Below are a sampling of responses we recieved from youth from San Jose high schools and probation programs through our running workshop series. Feel free to comment, and workshop facilitators will share with authors.

Way too harsh
Antonio, 16

I think that the correctional officers shouldn’t be allowed to have pepper spray. They need something to defend themselves, but pepper spray is too much because it seems extremely harsh. The cops already have a stick with them if something is going on and if things get too wild they have pepper spray in the back, in case of a riot. I would not like to hear that my boy is being pepper sprayed because I heard it hurts a lot. No one would like to be pepper sprayed, so why would they allow this for the Juvenile Hall kids? What if a cop just doesn’t like you and decides to pepper spray you? I mean if he hits you with the stick you can at least protect yourself, but you’ll still suffer. With the spray, there is no way to protect yourself.


My cell is my only peace

My [jail] cell is the one place I can go to be in peace. Hearing about how they can use pepper spray on inmates even for not following orders like not leaving their cell doesn't seem real. At the same time, I'm not even surprised. My cell is the one place I can go to be alone and think. It was the first place I came down off of drugs. It was the first place I prayed, and I'm so grateful for the chance I got. Going in and out of my cell is really the only choice I had when I'm locked up, and now they're possibly taking that away.


Pepper spray will lead to more violence

I do not think it is a good idea because I think it is going to lead to more violence. Pepper spray not only gets people mad, but it also hurts their eyes and could be dangerous. I personally think that breaking up a fight, like with staff breaking them apart would be more effective than pepper spray. I feel like pepper spray would cause more rebellious inmates.

There are other ways to resolve problems. I don't think that pepper spray is a bad idea and that they should not use it at all, but I know that some officers will get out of hand and feel authorized with power to use it whenever they just feel like it; like police officers have taken advantage.


Try it on yourselves if you want to use it
Jose, 15

I think it’s whack that they're going to allow the CO’s [correctional officers] to have pepper spray, and be able to use it on the inmates at Juvenile Hall. I mean, I’ve been pepper sprayed and it’s not a good feeling. I think that the person who passed this law should imagine if he was an inmate, and was getting pepper sprayed for every little thing, not just riots and misconducts. Get pepper sprayed and see how it feels before you spray someone, officer.


What if it was your kid?
Cristian, 17

I think that the correction officers are wrong for hurting kids. I know they don’t care, because their kid is not in there, but if they actually think their kid was in there, they would feel bad. So I think it’s bad.


You never know how it might be used
Homberto, 18

I believe that police officers should not be using pepper spray in Juvenile Hall. I say that because, if an officer does not like someone, they might want to use it on them. Also, they're spraying teens who have made wrong decisions. I don’t think teens should be getting pepper sprayed. Also, cops might want to use it for no reason.


Slippery slope

In a sense, the use of pepper spray is fine, but once it's put into use it becomes a slippery slope. This means that the cops will then start to use the pepper spray for unnecessary reasons. One of the arguments that they use is that it would add a layer of safety for the officers. Sure, braking up fights might be dangerous and all, but the use of such [a] weapon should be regulated.


Use what you already got

I think it is dumb that they are allowing pepper spray, because they already have all of these weapons to use on people who commit violent acts while facing their charges. So why do you need pepper spray to stop people from fighting? Use the same tactics you've been using for years now.


No weapon is a good weapon
Armando, 15

I think that having pepper spray in juvie is stupid. It gives the officers authority to spray anyone there, whenever they want. For example, If a C.O. [correctional officer] doesn’t like you, he has the authority to just spray you. Some officers can be d***s. Also, on the other hand for riots, I don’t think pepper spray affects them more than hitting them with the sticks (batons).

De-Bug High offers youth perspectives on the issue of the day by tapping into the writers, artists, and visionaries going to our Silicon Valley schools.