John Doe 1 was 17-years-old when he, like thousands of other adolescents in the U.S., was placed in an adult prison in Michigan. He’d been convicted of participating in a couple of home invasions and was looking at a minimum of three years inside. Attacks by older, much larger prisoners–the first, a cell mate–started soon after arrival. John, not his real name and now 20, recounts the abuse to The Marshall Project in an intimate and devastating long-read on the origins, status and limitations of the 12-year-old Prison Rape Elimination Act.
John would later be asked why he did not tell correctional staff, since in theory they could have taken steps to protect him. "I didn’t know what to do," he said. He assumed the staff knew what was happening. From their station at the end of the hall, the officers would see men going in and out of his cell and they would not intervene. The rapists would put a towel over the cell door’s window, which was not allowed but must have been noticed by officers making their rounds. John says some of the officers would even make jokes, calling him a "fag," a "girl," and a "bust-down." Two months after his arrival, John finally reached a breaking point.
According to TMP, "17 year-olds are automatically tried as adults in 10 states, while 16 year-olds automatically face adult charges in North Carolina and New York." All states typically give prosecutors and judges wide discretion in deciding whether to charge youth under 18 as adults.