A member of the National Juvenile Justice Network and president of the Illinois Juvenile Justice Initiative, Betsy Clarke, wrote a brief article noting that 2014 is the 40th anniversary of the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act, and the 25th anniversary of the United Nations’ adoption of the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
“The U.S. Congress passed the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Protection Act (JJDPA). The original law included two core protections – that status offenders (runaways, curfew violators, etc.) should not be detained, and that children should be sight and sound separated from adults in adult jails and lockups. A jail removal protection was added in 1980 to remind states that children should not be in adult jails and lockups except under very limited circumstances. Finally, the Act was expanded in 1992 to include a requirement that states address the overrepresentation of children of color in the justice system. With the JJDPA, came the creation of the federal Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, and a small pot of federal dollars for states to use to develop innovative prevention and intervention programs and strategies.”
“The United Nations General Assembly adopted the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC). The CRC banned extreme punishments of the death penalty and life without parole, required counsel and due process in juvenile proceedings, set 18 as the minimum age for adult court jurisdiction, required nations to adopt a reasonable minimum age of jurisdiction, and clariﬁed that incarceration was to be a last resort for as short a time as possible within humane facilities. The Convention was a consensus document with the participation of the United States, under the direction of then President Reagan. It was the most widely and rapidly ratiﬁed human rights treaty in history – only three nations have failed to ratify. Although the U.S. signed the CRC under President Clinton, it has yet to ratify – along with Somalia and South Sudan.”
Ms. Clarke calls for the human rights spelled out by the CRC be adopted in state and federal laws, that children have an attorney present during interrogations, that waiver of juvenile court jurisdiction to criminal court be an “exceptional” decision, and that incarceration be used as a last resort.