Javier Stauring learned that troubled youths 'weren't so different' from him

In 2005, Javier Stauring was giving a presentation about the American juvenile justice system to an international conference in Germany when one of his comments caused a stir.

“I had said, ‘In California we give life sentences to 14-year-olds,’ and since it was being translated to everyone wearing headphones, they all turned around to ask the translators for a repeat, as if they had mistranslated,” he says. “After they found out I had not misspoken, they gathered around me dumbfounded to press me, ‘How can this be?’

“One woman said, ‘We live in the land of the Holocaust, and we look to the US as the model of what can and should be achieved in people being able to turn their lives around. How sad that you cannot give your own children that chance.’ ”

The story reminded Mr. Stauring of his shock the first time he visited a children’s unit at the Los Angeles Central Jail in 2001. He found 14-year-olds in isolation in dark cells, almost 24 hours a day, for months at a time.

After having a conversation through a thin hole with a young girl in solitary confinement who was curled up on a bunk next to a stainless steel sink and toilet, he told her he would do whatever it took to get her out of there.

But when he began trying, he found a judicial detention system that for years had been increasing penalties for youths.

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By Daniel Wood June 18, 2015