The Attorney General’s National Task Force on Children Exposed to Violence has released a report that calls for an end to laws and regulations that prosecute children as adults in adult courts, incarcerate them with adults, and sentence them to harsh punishments that ignore and diminish their capacity to grow.
Defending Childhood reports that exposure to violence is a national crisis that affects approximately two out of every three of our children. Of the 76 million children currently residing in the United States, an estimated 46 million can expect to have their lives touched by violence, crime, abuse, and psychological trauma this year.
The vast majority of children involved in the juvenile justice system have survived exposure to violence and are living with the trauma of those experiences, the task force found. When properly screened, assessed, and provided with trauma-informed care and evidence-based trauma-specific treatment, children who have been exposed to violence and are in trouble with the law have the capacity to grow, mature, and become productive citizens.
Instead, more than 200,000 children every year are tried as adults, and on any given day an estimated 6000 are incarcerated in an adult facility while they are still juveniles, where they are much more likely to commit suicide and five times as likely to be sexually abused or raped as they would be in a juvenile facility.
“It is time to utilize effective coordinated approaches that address the needs of children traumatized by violence who commit violent acts,” the task force concluded. Specifically, the task force recommends that young offenders be prosecuted in the juvenile justice system instead of transferring their cases to adult courts.
The report recommends: “No juvenile offender should be viewed or treated as an adult. Laws and regulations prosecuting them as adults in adult courts, incarcerating them as adults, and sentencing them to harsh punishments that ignore and diminish their capacity to grow must be replaced or abandoned.”
Earlier this year, 32 members of Congress urged U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder to strengthen federal regulations and essentially prohibit states and localities from incarcerating any person younger than 18 in an adult prison or jail as a condition of federal funding.
EJI is challenging the adult prosecution of young children and believes every state in the country should immediately end the confinement of children in adult jails and prisons.