It’s Time to Treat Our Youth as Youth: The Physicians for Criminal Justice Reform Adopt a Policy Statement in Support of Keeping Youth out of the Adult Criminal Justice System
This statement was originally published on the Physicians for Criminal Justice Reforn's website.
The Physicians for Criminal Justice Reform support the end of the prosecution, sentencing, and incarceration of youth under the age of 18 in the adult criminal justice system.
Each year, approximately 200,000 youth are prosecuted in the adult criminal justice system. According to decades of medical literature, adolescent brains are developmentally different from those of adults, often leading to impulsive decision-making, increased risk-taking and decreased appreciation for long-term consequences of behaviors. As a result, youth, by law, are prohibited from taking on major adult responsibilities such as voting, jury duty, and military service. It follows, then, that youth should not be held to an adult standard of accountability when involved with the criminal justice system.
Furthermore, youth in adult jails and prisons are more likely to be sexually assaulted, physically assaulted and, upon release, are more likely to re-offend than youth housed in juvenile facilities. Each of those experiences, as well as early developmental experiences that put adolescents at risk for involvement with the criminal justice system, result in long-lasting, negative physical and mental health consequences that could be avoided by juvenile justice reform that identifies and diverts at-risk youth.
As doctors, it is our duty to make a united stand against environmental factors that affect both the mental and physical health outcomes of our patients. Adolescent brains do not function in an equal capacity as adult brains. Therefore, it is not scientifically sound to equate the functioning of an adolescent brain with that of an adult.