What Happens When Teen's Punishment Doesn't Fit Crime? - KMSP-TV

What Happens When Teen's Punishment Doesn't Fit Crime?

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PHILADELPHIA -

Earlier this week, we showed you video of a brutal girl fight at a local high school.

While we don't yet know what will become of the teens involved, we do know with every incident comes consequences.

As FOX 29 Investigative Report Jeff Cole shows us, the punishments they get could change their lives forever.

They are stories that left all of us shaking our heads – teenagers doing the unthinkable! Considering the nature of their crimes, most of us are satisfied with the time these young people were given.

But what happens when the punishment doesn't fit the crime?

"My younger brother, everyone would always pick on him, like, 'You're a f-----,'" student Shyraya Hill said. "So, it was my job to protect him."

Four years ago, that's what Hill says she did: "He had all older sisters, so he didn't act just like strong and tough."

She came to his defense, hitting the boy who hit her brother. While no one was physically injured, the then straight-A student, who had never been in trouble with the law, suddenly found herself in handcuffs.

"The school I went to was like a no-tolerance school, so any fights and you'll be expelled," Hill said.

Later, she was locked up for three months.

Today, the 20-year-old finds herself with a record she can't seem to get rid of.

"They tell you, 'Oh, when you turn 18 this is going to disappear,'" she said.

Not for Hill, or the other 95 percent of children who are currently detained for committing non-violent offenses such as missing curfew, loitering, disorderly conduct, fighting, vandalism, and drug- and alcohol-related offenses.

It's a fact some people, including artist Richard Ross, find disturbing. He says these occurrences happen every day. It's just these kids got caught.

"There are 22 states in the country, as well as the District of Columbia, that will take kids into custody ... in juvenile detention as young as seven," Ross said. "And at that point I realized I have the ability to give voice to these kids."

It has bothered the artist so much that he has traveled the country capturing images of children behind bars – a place he says is not for kids.

Crystal Arim, 18, couldn't agree more. At age 14, she, too, became a part of the juvenile justice system.

"I realized that most of the issues that led me to being there were stemming from not having the right family support," Arim said.

That, and being teased.

"Because I'm African," she said. "Kids would call me 'African booty-scratcher.' They would talk about what I would wear to school."

It wasn't too long after Arim was fighting – she says to protect herself.

"When you think about the criminal system at a young age, you don't think about a school fight leading to you being arrested. You think of rape. You think of murder," she said.

Arim spent four months locked up. And she has a record. Hard to imagine for this young lady who is now citywide student government president and an A and B student who hopes to someday become a lawyer.

"I was confused because it was the first time I had an encounter with the system," Arim said.

Hill said, "I wouldn't have pled guilty because they said, 'Well, you should do this because if you don't, you're going to do real big time.'"

Hill said she also didn't understand at the time it would be up to her to get her record expunged.

According to Riya Saha Shah, a lawyer at the Juvenile Law Center, "The child themselves has to put some sort of effort into doing this, whether it's filing a petition, or applying, or even, you know, paying a fee."

It's a difficult process, the lawyer said.

"If somebody committed a juvenile offense and was an adjudicated delinquent at 15, and then at 16-years-old they got off probation, they have to wait five years before they can even make an application to the court," she said.

That's what both Hill and Arim are doing now.

"I'm pretty sure everyone's made different mistakes," Hill said. "It might not be you got in trouble with the law. … If you're like 36, you're not the same person you were at 5. You're not the same person you are at 15."

If you would like to see more of Ross' moving images, please check out "Juvenile in Justice." The exhibit is presented by Inliquid Art & Design at the Crane Building in Kensington.

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