The NYTimes has written an editorial in support of the re-authorization of the Juvenile Justice and Delinqunecy Prevention Act, a law designed to set the standard for the protection youth who are accused of crimes. It’s apalling that we would even consider locking up teenagers with adults while they are awaiting trial, and yet, states still do that.
I learned about this backward practice when I got to interview Liz Ryan last year for Justice Matters. One thing she said that really stuck with me:
The Casey Institute looked at data about youth in juvenile detention in Delaware. Breaking it out, they noticed a bunch of youth sitting in detention for a long period of time, charged as adults. In some cases, youth were waiting up to a year for a date in adult court. Then the adult court judge would review the case and send it back to the youth system based on it not being appropriate for adult court! So they would spend a year locked up even if the appropriate sanction was 90 days. That’s not fair, not humane. So the state reviewed the law and changed it, acknowledging that these youth should not be in adult court.
Yes, if that happened to a youth I loved, I would be besides myself trying to figure out how to keep this from ever happening. And luckily, I would have theCampaign for Youth Justice to help me navigate the system and find ways to take action.
We need to follow their lead with a push to end the practice of locking up youth in adult prisons, start using detention wisely and with restraint, and focus on funding community-based youth programs that prevent crime and get youth the support they need to become the adults they can be.