Progress on the U.S. Attorney General's Task Force on Children Exposed to Violence
By Liz Ryan
Six months ago this week, the U.S. Attorney General's Task Force on Children Exposed to Violence released recommendations after an exhaustive year-long examination on best practices and approaches to reducing childrens' exposure to violence. Through extensive public hearings, the Task Force heard from directly affected youth and their families about the violence children are exposed to in the justice system. Among the extensive set of recommendations, the task force report included a chapter on reducing exposure of children to violence in the justice system with a recommendation to abandon policies that prosecute, incarcerate or sentence youth under 18 in adult criminal court.
According to the Task Force's report, "We should stop treating juvenile offenders as if they were adults, prosecuting them in adult courts, incarcerating them as adults, and sentencing them to harsh punishments that ignore their capacity to grow." This recommendation impacts an estimated 250,000 youth under the age of 18 who are prosecuted in the adult criminal justice system and the nearly 100,000 youth who are cycled through adult jails and prisons each year.
The Task Force's recommendation reflects the policies of all the major professional associations representing juvenile and adult criminal justice system stakeholders that highlight the harm youth are subjected to in the adult criminal justice system. And the recommendation is consistent with the research across the nation undertaken by the U.S. Department of Justice's Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) and the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention highlighting the ineffectiveness of juvenile transfer laws at providing a deterrent for juvenile delinquency and decreasing recidivism.
The Task Force's recommendation also builds on the latest state law reforms according to an August, 2012 report, "Trends in Juvenile Justice State Legislation 2001 - 2011" released by the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL), showing that numerous states have undertaken policy reforms in the last decade to remove youth from the adult criminal justice system and from adult jails and prisons.
Since the report was released, several states have moved forward in 2013 by reducing the prosecution of youth in adult court and removing children from adult jails and prisons. Illinois’ legislature passed legislation this spring to raise the age of juvenile court jurisdiction to age 18, and Massachusetts’ House has approved similar legislation. Missouri’s legislature has approved “Jonathan’s Law” to give more youth an opportunity at rehabilitation in the juvenile justice system instead of the adult criminal justice system. The Maryland General Assembly has created a task force to examine the issue of automatic transfer, and the Nevada and Indiana legislatures have approved legislation to keep kids out of adult jails and prisons.
As the Attorney General continues to consider the Task Force's report, we look forward to working with the AG to ensure that the recommendation to remove youth from adult criminal court and other recommendations impacting youth in the justice system are fully implemented.