October is Youth Justice Action Month (YJAM). The youth criminal justice system is far from just—young people remain over-policed and over-criminalized, pushing Black children and other children of color into a system proven to cause long-lasting harm. YJAM is an opportunity to connect virtually, learn more about the harms of our current systems, and take action to support our young people!
Too often, Black children are treated as adults and their normal adolescent behaviors treated as delinquent. This adultification and overcriminalization make Black children unsafe at school and in their neighborhoods and cause Black children to be unfairly pushed out of schools and overrepresented at every point in the criminal justice system.
The criminal justice system furthers this adultification by disregarding children’s age and pushing them—especially Black children and other children of color—into a punitive system that was not designed with their needs in mind. Arrest and incarceration have devastating and life-long impacts on children’s health, education, economic stability, and well-being. Yet, there remains no minimum age for arresting and prosecuting a child. In the federal system, children as young as 13 can be tried as an adult and once they turn 16, they are directly filed in adult court for certain crimes—pushing them into an even harsher system and greater risk of lasting negative harms.
These policies go directly against what we know about child development and childhood trauma. A young person’s age and the impact of possible childhood trauma should be taken into account when they come into contact with the criminal justice system. The vast majority of children involved in the criminal justice system are contending with early childhood trauma and unmitigated Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs), but the justice system rarely recognizes or addresses these links between criminal justice involvement and 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 violates children’s human rights and perpetuates systemic racial inequities as Black children and other children of color are disproportionately targeted by the justice system.
Children deserve trauma-informed and age-appropriate responses to their needs. That’s why CDF endorsed a package of criminal justice reform bills, which will take a step towards creating a more fair and equitable system that acknowledges children’s age and developmental distinctions from adults. You can read more about these reforms and support by signing the Human Rights for Kids’ petition.
This summer, CDF Freedom Schools® scholars across the country organized for youth justice in their communities. Now it’s our turn to get involved and take action to support our young people!
- Sign the petition calling for Congress to pass needed criminal justice reform for children.
- Attend this week’s workshop: Register here to join the Coalition for Juvenile Justice and the National Juvenile Justice Network on Tuesday, October 12th, at 3 pm ET for the Learning Workshop, “Treat Kids as Kids: Stop the Adult Criminalization of Youth.”
- Attend the Virtual Hill Training: Register here to join the Coalition for Juvenile Justice and the National Juvenile Justice Network on Thursday, October 14th, at 5:30 pm ET for a Virtual Hill Day Training for tips on how to make your call or visit as effective as possible.
- Join YJAM Virtual Hill Days: Schedule a call or video meeting with your member of Congress or their staff between October 18-22. Register here to receive tools to help with a virtual meeting, phone scripts to call in, and social media.
- Join the conversation on social media using the hashtags #YJAM2021 #YouthJusticeNow