End Human Rights Abuses Against Kids in the U.S. Justice System

End Human Rights Abuses Against Kids in the U.S. Justice System

0 have signed. Let’s get to 2,500!
At 2,500 signatures, this petition is more likely to get picked up by local news!
Human Rights for Kids started this petition to U.S. Congress and

Too little attention has been paid to the treatment of children in the U.S. criminal justice system. From arrest to sentencing and incarceration, our treatment of children in the justice system is long overdue for re-examination and reform.

In the late 1980s and early 1990s, states began passing laws to make it easier to transfer children into the adult criminal justice system, which exposed children to harsh mandatory minimum sentences and mandatory sentencing enhancements, as well as extreme sentences like life without parole. By the year 2000, a child as young as 10 years old could be tried as an adult for certain offenses. An estimated 76,000 children are prosecuted in the adult criminal justice system every year in the United States. These children can face severe punishment that is not age-appropriate and is disproportionate given their young age and lessened culpability relative to that of adults.

Studies have shown that children’s brains are not fully developed. The pre-frontal cortex, which is responsible for temporal organization of behavior, speech, and reasoning continues to develop into early adulthood. Children’s underdeveloped brains and proclivity for impetuous decision-making is why we do not allow children to vote, enter into contracts, work in certain industries, get married, join the military, or use alcohol or tobacco products. These policies recognize that children are impulsive, immature, and lack solid decision-making abilities until they have reach adulthood. The one area where we do not treat children differently than adults is in our criminal justice system, where we have been too quick to discard child-status and throw children to the mercy of a system that was never designed with them in mind.

The vast majority of children involved in the criminal justice system are contending with early childhood trauma and unmitigated Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs), including psychological, physical, and/or sexual abuse; witnessing domestic violence; living with family members who are substance abusers, suffer from mental illness or suicidal ideation, or are incarcerated. Studies have shown that approximately 90 percent of children in the juvenile justice system have experienced at least two ACEs, and 27 percent of boys and 45 percent of girls have experienced at least five ACEs. For children sentenced to life in prison, nearly 80 percent of them reported witnessing violence in their homes, 50 percent were physically abused, and 20 percent were sexually abused during their life. However, the justice system rarely recognizes or understands the connection between children who have committed a criminal act and their previous exposure to trauma.

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 is a human rights abuse – especially for youth of color 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.

The U.S. continues to be out of compliance with international human rights law which requires child status to be considered at every proceeding in the criminal justice system, as well as special procedures to be in place to ensure that justice system policies distinguish between children and adults. 

Republican Congressman Bruce Westerman of Arkansas has introduced 3 Child Sentencing Reform Bills to begin addressing the treatment of children in the federal  criminal justice system: 

H.R. 1949 addresses the use of mandatory minimum sentences on all children in the federal criminal justice system. Under this measure, judges will consider how children are different from adult offenders prior to sentencing and will be allowed to depart up to 35 percent away from the otherwise applicable mandatory minimum sentence. 

H.R. 1950 - also known as Sara's Law - will allow judges to depart from any mandatory minimum sentence or suspend any portion of a sentence when a child has committed a crime against someone who has previously sex trafficked or sexually abused them.

And H.R. 1951 will allow children sentenced to more than 20 years in prison for crimes committed before their 18th birthday to petition the original sentencing court for review of their sentence after they have served 20 years of their sentence. This legislation will end life and de facto life without parole sentences for children and bring the federal government into compliance with the U.S. Supreme Court’s decisions in Graham v. Florida, Miller v. Alabama, and Montgomery v. Louisiana.

SIGN THIS PETITION TO URGE YOUR MEMBER OF CONGRESS TO SUPPORT CONGRESSMAN WESTERMAN'S CHILD SENTENCING REFORM LEGISLATION AND TO SIGN ON AS A CO-SPONSOR. 

For more information please visit: humanrightsforkids.org

0 have signed. Let’s get to 2,500!
At 2,500 signatures, this petition is more likely to get picked up by local news!