As thousands of children enter our criminal justice system each year….
More than 2 million juveniles are arrested each year. The majority of youth convictions in the last century have occurred in the juvenile justice system, but the recent tough-on-crime movement has increased the number of juveniles tried as adults—over 200,000 minors each year are cast into the adult system. Though juveniles can no longer be given the death penalty, serious offenders are eligible for life without parole; approximately 2,300 juveniles are serving this sentence. Whether the offense is minor or serious, juvenile offenders warrant treatment different from adults due to their incomplete psychological development and their high potential to leave criminal behavior and become law-abiding citizens.
…they face the harsh realities of a prison culture that ignores their unique needs.
Yet, often our criminal justice system neglects juveniles’ unique needs. The practice of sentencing youth to adult prisons exposes them to far greater risks of sexual abuse and suicide. Juveniles’ chances of successful reentry also plummet because of the scars of an adult criminal record and long-term exposure to harsh prison culture. In fact, 80% of juveniles released from adult prisons will re-offend. Sentences of life without parole have been delivered to juveniles who were not directly responsible for homicide or may not have comprehended the nature of their acts. The youth who do remain in the juvenile just system face a lack of mental health treatment and high levels of racial disparity.
Justice Fellowship calls for justice that enables youth to reject a criminal lifestyle.
To steer youth away from a life of crime, Justice Fellowship advocates for programs that applyrestorative justice to delinquent offenses. Restorative justice holds greater promise for juvenile offenders than strictly punitive measures because it teaches them to confront their actions and enables restitution and rehabilitation. Justice Fellowship believes youth should not be warehoused in the adult prison system, and life without parole sentences should not be given to minors. In order to address the particular needs of juvenile offenders, Justice Fellowship advocated for the passage of the Second Chance Act of 2007 and the Prison Rape Elimination Act of 2003. The Second Chance Act authorizes grants for State demonstration reentry projects as well as State academic and vocational programs in juvenile facilities. PREA initiated the creation of standards to detect and prevent sexual abuse of minors in adult and juvenile facilities. By holding juveniles accountable while providing real opportunities for change in safe environments, we can make great strides in transforming our youth into peaceful, productive citizens.