Juvenile Justice is the area of criminal law applicable to persons not old enough to be held responsible for criminal acts. (Wex Legal Dictionary). It is a justice system for criminal offenders under the age of 18. In the United States youth are incarcerated at an increasingly alarming rate, according to the American Civil Liberties Union(ACLU), 60,000 kids are incarcerated in juvenile facilities in any given day. These young criminal offenders for crimes such as robbery, possession of drugs or possession of armed weapons are tried in court and sentenced to prison. They are tried in adult courts where rules apply to adults not to children and are placed in adult prisons or juvenile prisons where they undergo abuse.
The ACLU’s position in the fight for the juvenile justice system has been a long one that is not over yet. It works to challenge the way youth are criminalized and incarcerated, it seeks to create better ways to achieve rehabilitation of the youth other than putting them in prisons. The ACLU has taken a front row position in this fight by advocating for change in laws and policies concerning the youth.
ACLU has taken on the position of pursuing legislation for the youth. It works to advocate change in the age limit for incarceration of youth to adult prisons in states that still put youth under 18 years in these prisons. It further works to ensure that those taken to juvenile prisons remain in them and are not taken to adult prisons. The organization also works to push for less youth being taken to youth jails and prisons but to be put in community based programs and services that will still provide rehabilitation for the youth and also support their families. It further works to ensure the reallocation for resources from youth jails to these community based services to reduce the number of youth going to jail.
The organization also fights for the dismantling of the school to prison pipeline. This is a trend that is ongoing that mainly affects youth from underprivileged communities. Many youth are shuttled from high school and straight to youth jails and prisons. .they are victims of the zero-tolerance policy used in many schools that punish severely minor infractions. Instead of issues that can be handled in school remaining as such, students are arrested and put into the criminal system. ACLU works fervently to push for more positive and less severe school discipline approaches to reduce these phenomenon.
The ACLU also works to reallocate resources to poorly funded public schools which are responsible for increased incarceration of youth. There’s poorly funded schools are overcrowded with unqualified teachers and no support staff such as counselors. The lack of these facilities means that the educational needs of these students are not met and they are forced into a life of crime that leads to incarceration. Many youth end up joining neighborhood gangs and carry out theft or even murder in an attempt to earn some money in a poverty stricken society. Sooner rather than later they are caught and incarceration follows. This is occurs mostly for black youth who, according to ACLU statistics are incarcerated five times more than white youth. To this end, the ACLU works to end racial disparities in the juvenile system.(ACLU)
The ACLU understands that these youth are criminal offenders and should be punished for their crimes but also seek to make their rehabilitation process less severe. It works to end excess sentences and extreme punishments for youth. It also works to end sentences that comprise of life imprisonment with no parole to ensure no youth dies while incarcerated. It also seeks to put an end to solitary confinement as a punishment for youth in prison. (ACLU)
As the ACLU has been fighting for the youth it is good to see that the justice system is opening up to these changes and seeing these young offenders as children who are still growing who deserve to live beyond their incarceration. I believe that the ACLU has the right standing in this fight for the reprogramming of the juvenile justice system in America and it is a fight that can be won.