Petition Closed
Petitioning U.S. Senate

Reject the Sessions amendment to transfer more youth to adult court


On Thursday, December 17th, the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee is expected to consider   S. 678, the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Reauthorization Act of 2009.  This critical legislation may be undermined by the addition of amendment expected to be offered by Senator Sessions (R-AL) that would increase the number of youth tried as adults and/or that would remove a judge’s discretion to determine whether to prosecute a youth in adult court.  Such an amendment would directly contradict the goals and purposes of the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act. 

The Sessions amendment would modify current federal transfer law by taking the decision of whether a youth should be prosecuted as an adult for an enumerated list of crimes away from neutral federal judges and instead place the decision with prosecutors.  This amendment would also cast a wide net by allowing this increased discretion to be applied to youth who are charged with attempt or conspiracy to commit these crimes or for joined or lesser included offenses.

Urge the Senate Judiciary Committee to reject this amendment as it would harm youth, decrease public safety, and disproportionately affect youth of color.

 

Letter to
U.S. Senate
As I understand that the U.S. Senator Judiciary Committee is expected to consider S. 678, the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Reauthorization Act of 2009, in the next few weeks, I am writing to urge you to oppose an amendment, expected to be offered by Senator Sessions, that would increase the number of youth tried as adults or that would remove a judge’s discretion to determine whether to prosecute a youth in adult court. Such an amendment would directly contradict the goals and purposes of the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act.

The Sessions amendment would modify current federal transfer law by taking the decision of whether a youth should be prosecuted as an adult for an enumerated list of crimes away from neutral federal judges and instead place the decision with prosecutors. This amendment would also cast a wide net by allowing this increased discretion to be applied to youth who are charged with attempt or conspiracy to commit these crimes or for joined or lesser included offenses.

I strongly oppose the Sessions amendment or any similar amendment that would increase the number of youth tried as adults or that would remove a judge’s discretion to determine whether to prosecute a youth in adult court because it would:

--Harm public safety. Research shows that youth transferred to the adult criminal justice system are more likely to commit crimes in the future when compared to youth who commit similar crimes, but are retained in the juvenile justice system.

--Disproportionately affect youth of color. Available data indicates that youth of color are disproportionately prosecuted in the adult criminal justice system.

--Contradict public opinion. A recent Zogby poll conducted found that 92% of Americans believe that the decision to try a youth in adult court is best made on a case-by-case basis by a neutral decision-maker, such as a juvenile court judge. In addition, national polling shows that a vast majority of Americans support rehabilitating, rather than punishing, even serious juvenile offenders.

--Be inconsistent with the latest scientific evidence on the adolescent brain. Adolescent brain research shows that children’s brains are still developing well into their early 20's and that youth do not have all the capacities as adults. Indeed, the final area of the human brain to mature is the prefrontal cortex, which governs the “executive functions” of reasoning, advanced thought and impulse control.

For the reasons above, I urge you to vote against the Sessions amendment or any similar amendment that would increase the number of youth tried as adults or that would remove a judge’s discretion to determine whether to prosecute a youth in adult court during the Committee’s consideration of S. 678.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Sincerely,