June is Children’s Awareness Month
By Anne-Lise Vray, Juvenile Justice Fellow
June is Children’s Awareness Month. One would typically think of a child as a 10 year-old in the prime of his/her life, happily going to school, swinging on the playground with friends, helping parents around the house, growing and learning more every day. Unfortunately, for many American children this is not the reality. In 22 states and the District of Columbia, children as young as 7 can be prosecuted as adults. In fact, fourteen states have no minimum age for trying children as adults. Some states set the minimum age at 10, 12, or 13, which is still way too young. As the U.S. Supreme Court has found 5 times in the past decade, children are not the same as adults, and Courts need to ensure they are considering the age, maturity, and brain development before issuing adult punishments.
Children’s Awareness Month is a great occasion to remember these too often forgotten children, and to act on their behalves in order to end the harmful practice of trying, sentencing and incarcerating youth as adults. Instead we should invest in age appropriate approaches that work and tend to the underlying trauma that so many of these youth are exposed to before they ever come in contact with the law. This failed policy of treating children like adults is contradicted by neuroscience leads to poor outcomes for public safety, since youth prosecuted as adults are 34% more likely to recidivate than those handled by the juvenile justice system.
All children deserve to be children, and provided the opportunity to correct bad decisions and afforded second chances.