Over one million cases involving youth are heard by our juvenile courts annually. These young people may be interrogated by police without the assistance of an attorney, enter guilty pleas without fully appreciating the consequences of doing so, or give up other important trial rights in violation of the Constitution. They may be appear in court unrepresented, or find themselves burdened by records that cause long-term obstacles as they try to continue their education or work in their communities.
Racism pervades our justice system, leading to the arrest, prosecution, adjudication and incarceration of disproportionately greater numbers of youth of color than white youth, even while youth offending patterns are relatively similar. Moreover, fines and fees imposed on youth create an unfair system of “justice by income,” where children in poverty face an increased risk of incarceration, while more affluent youth receive effective community-based treatment. Justice should not be based on the color of a child’s skin, where a child lives, or the family’s income.
Youth deserve legal protections and experienced lawyers to challenge unconstitutional laws, oppose unfair policies or practices, and hold systems accountable when they harm youth and their families.
Images: © Richard Ross, juvenile-in-justice.com