Treat Children Like Children: Pass Criminal Justice Reform for Kids

Treat Children Like Children: Pass Criminal Justice Reform for Kids

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Human Rights for Kids 501(c)(3) started this petition to Congress and

Human Rights for Kids and our partners at the Campaign for the Fair Sentencing of Youth, National Juvenile Justice Network, Human Rights Watch, Coalition for Juvenile Justice, Anti-Recidivism Coalition, First Focus Campaign for ChildrenRights4Girls, and the NJJDPC Coalition are asking Congress to pass Comprehensive Criminal Justice Reform to change the way children are treated in the justice system. 

Too often the criminal justice system fails to respond in a trauma-informed and age-appropriate way to children who engage in delinquent or criminal conduct. The vast majority of children involved in the criminal justice system are contending with early childhood trauma and unmitigated Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs). However, the justice system rarely recognizes or understands the connection between children who have committed a criminal act and their previous exposure to trauma. This failure also applies to children with disabilities who are disproportionately harmed by the justice system.

The lack of regard for child status and the failure to account for the impact of early childhood trauma in children transferred into the adult criminal justice system violates children’s human rights and perpetuates systemic inequities – especially for Black, Hispanic, and Native American youth and youth from low socio-economic backgrounds who make up the vast majority of children harmed by the justice system. Black children comprise 58 percent of all children confined in adult prisons. Roughly 83 percent of children prosecuted in the adult criminal justice system are racial minorities, where black children represent 87 percent of drug cases, 48 percent of property cases, and 63 percent of public order offense cases.

A bipartisan package of criminal justice reform bills have been introduced that will take a step towards creating a criminal justice system that is more fair and equitable for all children and are described in detail below:

PROTECTING KIDS AT THE POINT OF ARREST/ENTRANCE INTO THE SYSTEM

Congressman Tony Cardenas' (D-CA) bill (H.R. 2834) requires parents to be notified when a child is arrested and requires that the child consult with legal counsel before they can waive their Constitutional Rights and be subject to a custodial interrogation.

ESTABLISHING A MINIMUM JUVENILE AND ADULT COURT AGE; REMOVING KIDS FROM ADULT JAILS & PRISONS; DATA COLLECTION; TREATMENT & SERVICES FOR VULNERABLE YOUTH

Congresswoman Karen Bass' (D-CA) bill (H.R. 2908) establishes a minimum age of 12 for criminal culpability for children; increases the minimum age for a child to be tried as an adult from 13 to 16; eliminates the felony murder rule for children; prohibits the placement of children in adult jails or prisons; requires data collection on youth who come into the federal criminal justice system; and establishes a grant block program for treatment and services for children under 12 and child victims of commercial sexual exploitation.    

SENTENCING REFORM & ENDING LIFE WITHOUT PAROLE SENTENCES FOR CHILDREN

Congressman Bruce Westerman's (R-AR) bill (H.R. 2858) would retroactively end life and de facto life without parole by giving individuals convicted of crimes as children the ability to petition a judge for sentencing review and modification after serving 20 years; give judges the ability to depart from mandatory minimums when sentencing children (up to 35% away from the minimum); and protect child sex crime victims from harsh sentencing when they commit acts of violence against their abusers.

These bills offer mercy and redemption for America’s children and represent common-sense reforms that properly balance protecting public safety with the need to treat children differently from adults in the federal criminal justice system. This package of legislation provides appropriate discretion to judges when sentencing children and refocuses sentencing considerations to better account for a child’s background and exposure to early childhood trauma. It also guarantees children the opportunity for sentencing review after they have been incarcerated for a reasonable amount of time.

JOIN US BY SIGNING THIS PETITION TO URGE YOUR MEMBER OF CONGRESS TO SUPPORT THIS BI-PARTISAN CRIMINAL JUSTICE REFORM PACKAGE THAT TREATS CHILDREN LIKE CHILDREN IN THE JUSTICE SYSTEM.  

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