San Jose Youth Respond to Use of Pepper Spray in Juvenile Hall

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. (Graphic by AD Avila)

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 their is no way to protect yourself.


My Cell is My Only Peace

My 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 thinking 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 wack that their going to allow the CO’s 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 their, but if they actually think their kid was in their, 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, their 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 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 Juvi is stupid. It gives the officers authority to spray anyone there, whenever they want. For example, If a C.O. 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).

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Before they use it on these kids...they should use it on themselves it their children first! Then see how they feel! Always resorting to negative behaviors towards these kids...why not learn to earn their trust, make them believe you care and sincere. Justice without walls is something Ive always thought is a better solution for majority of these kids! They cant be reached with love, compassion and respect from adults who failed them along the way! Makes me sick...these officers get permission to abuse these children.. If a parent used that method they would be looking at child abuse charges...but nobody sees that! If you cant get a child to trust you, you are in wrong profession. Do more damage than good!

This type of cruelty is absolutely discusting and inhumane ! This falls under cruel and unusual punishment ! What is the matter with this justice system ? Pure evilness , that's all I can say, except that Iam outraged and so would the rest of the community !

I'm a retired child welfare social worker. For 20 years I worked with parents who were accused of abusing their children. After retirement, I volunteered at two of our detention centers in a program to build self-esteem. Reading this is heart breaking, it also makes me angry. The children in detention did commit crimes, they also have issues that led them to that behavior. I don't understand how the probation department came to this conclusion. I don't understand how adults in a controlled environment cannot create another method of maintaining that control. When is violence against children correct. Where will it end.

Absolutely UNACCEPTABLE!!! I just finished reading a 2013 study that showed 92.5% of youth in juvenile detention facilities are victims of trauma. What helped them survive in their chaotic home environments (adaptations) are viewed as delinquency. Giving staff permission to further abuse and retraumatize these kids is unjust, unfair, and cruel! Instead of further traumatizing these kids & teaching them the world is an unsafe place, teach them to trust and show them compassion and positive role modeling. Shame on Santa Clara County! Shame on the Peace Officer's Asociation! This issue deserves public comment and oversight!

What ever it takes to let these little idiots under control. Don't go to juvenile hall, you don't have to worry about being pepper sprayed. I don't feel sorry for anyone who makes the wrong decision and suffers the consquenes.

I think that using pepper spray on these youth is unfair, because I don't think that pepper spraying them will help them stop what they are doing. Maybe if they are worried about the safety of the staff they could have them trained in martial arts or another form of self defense instead of handing them something that they might just use on a whim. sure it might be helpful with breaking up fights but at the same time there are other less-unfair options. I think that they should consider other options before picking the pepper-spray.

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