Each day, thousands of our nation’s youth are languishing in prisons. Children as young as 11 years old are locked up and cut off from family and community supports, spending entire days in single room cells. In some states, thirteen year-olds are rubbing elbows with seasoned adult criminals rather than receiving services that have been proven to help youth get on the right track, for good. Our nation’s treatment of youth in conflict with the law has reached a near crisis point.
- States in dire fiscal straits are spending upwards of $300,000 per child, per year to lock up low-level youth offenders, in spite of a large and growing body of evidence that incarcerating youth does not protect the public, and can actually cause youth to commit more crimes after they are released.
- In a civil rights violation of alarming proportion, youth of color receive the overwhelming brunt of this excessively punitive approach as they are arrested, charged and locked up more than white youth for similar offenses. Latino youth are detained at twice the rate and African American youth at four times the rate of white youth who commit similar crimes.
- The United States is the only country in the world that sentences youth to die in prison, some as young as 13; more than 2,500 youth in U.S. prisons will spend the rest of their days with no hope for release.
- Zero tolerance policies are funneling children as young as five into juvenile court for minor infractions that previously were handled by school principals and guidance counselors.
- More than 250,000 youth are sent into the adult criminal justice system each year, frequently for misdemeanor offenses, at great detriment to their mental and physical health and the public’s safety.
The U.S. has lost its way from the core ideals that led to the formation of the juvenile court more than 100 years ago, when our country realized that youth are fundamentally and categorically different than adults.
The state-based reform groups that make up the National Juvenile Justice Network’s membership body have helped to reverse the trend toward punitive and ineffective treatment of youth in conflict with the law by scrutinizing local and state laws and policies that govern the vast majority of juvenile cases. Across the country, these local change agents are working to bring youth back into the juvenile court, reverse sentencing laws that allow youth to die in prison, tear down harmful and ineffective youth prisons, and increase access to community-based services that work to ameliorate youth’s problems and attend to youth development.
As the only organization of its kind in the United States, the National Juvenile Justice Network (NJJN) exists to support the work of these state-based groups, and to join and raise their voices in demanding change both locally and nationally. NJJN leads a national movement of state-based juvenile justice coalitions and organizations to secure state and federal laws, policies and practices that are fair, equitable and developmentally appropriate for all children, youth and families involved in, or at risk of becoming involved in, the justice system. Comprised of 41 members from 33 states, NJJN connects these organizations to others across the country and amplifies their individual successes and struggles for collective gain.