Nearly 430,000 children were arrested in 2020, and juvenile courts across the country hear nearly 800,000 cases each year. These young people may be interrogated by police without 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 the 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 race, 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