Criminal Justice, Human Rights, Children and Youth

Criminal Justice, Human Rights, Children and Youth

The total population of juveniles in residential detention (excluding those placed in adult prisons) on any one day is 126,000.  Children are twice as likely as adults to be victims of violent crimes.  And by 1999, approximately 1.5 million children and adolescents had a parent in prison. 

The Juvenile Justice and Families and Prisons  pages of Justice and Witness Ministries Issues Pages provide resources about children and criminal justice.

God Is Still Speaking About Children, a short UCC Children's Table resource, lifts up issues around criminal justice, among other children's justice concerns.

There is growing concern that too many children are moving directly from public schools into juvenile detention.  These may be students whose reading skills are so low in middle school that they fall behind and drop out as they enter high school.  They may have fallen into the sequential sanctions of zero tolerance discipline policies.  They may be students who have never felt connected to any of the adults at school or who have never participated in a co-curricular activity. 

Churches should be concerned about the children who feel hopeless or thrown away.  Here are resources that will help you explore the entire continuum of the school-prison pipeline.  Then we hope you will find a place where a group from your church can involved... anywhere along the pipeline.

On dropouts, read Locating the Dropout Crisis from Johns Hopkins University, or Opportunities Suspended: The Devastating Consequences of Zero Tolerance School Discipline Policies from the Civil Rights Project. 

On the School-to-Prison Pipeline:

On Juvenile Justice:

October-November 2009  Youth Criminal Justice Alert:  The United Church of Christ Justice & Witness Ministries has become part of an amicus brief in two important cases coming before the U.S. Supreme Court on November 9, 2009: Sullivan v. Florida and Graham v. Florida. Joe Sullivan at the time of his crime lived at home, was mentally disabled and was thirteen years old.  That day two older boys convinced Joe to participate in a burglary.  That morning the boys took money and jewelry then left the female victim's house.  Later that afternoon Ms. Bruner was sexually assaulted but never saw her attacker.  One of the two older boys accused Joe Sullivan of the rape, which he denies, and the evidence against him is flimsy, at best.  The two older boys received shorter sentences and Joe Sullivan's trial was held in adult court before a six person jury and lasted one day.  At age 16 Terrance Graham committed the only offenses for which he has ever been convicted.  He was an accomplice to an armed burglary and attempted armed robbery of a restaurant.  Graham pled guilty to these offenses stemming from this single incident, and as part of a subsequent probation violation he committed as a juvenile, he was sentenced to the statutory maximum penalty.  While these crimes are serious and merit appropriate punishment, they absolutely do not merit life in prison without the possibility of parole.  Minors are recognized under all social conditions as persons who are not yet fully developed mentally, psychologically, or physically.  To condemn them to life in prison is cruel, unusual and extreme punishment for these or any other crimes.  The cruelty and inappropriateness of such sentencing is recognized throughout the world, and has been codified in human rights declarations for decades.  Please Note:  Joe Sullivan is one of only two 13 year olds who have received life without parole sentences for crimes which the victim did not die.  Both of these sentences were imposed in Florida.

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