Children in Prison

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Across the United States, thousands of children have been sentenced as adults and sent to adult prisons. Nearly 3000 nationwide have been sentenced to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole. Children as young as 13 years old have been tried as adults and sentenced to die in prison, typically without any consideration of their age or circumstances of the offense.

EJI argued in the United States Supreme Court that death-in-prison sentences imposed on children are unconstitutional, and the Court has now banned death-in-prison sentences for children convicted of non-homicide crimes and mandatory death-in-prison sentences for all children. Trial courts must conduct new sentencing hearings where judges will have to consider children's individual characters and life circumstances, including age, as well as the circumstances of the crime. The Supreme Court wrote that, because of "children's diminished culpability, and heightened capacity for change, we think appropriate occasions for sentencing juveniles to this harshest possible penalty will be uncommon."

Many young children in America are imperiled by abuse, neglect, domestic and community violence, and poverty. Without effective intervention and help, these children suffer, struggle, and fall into despair and hopelessness. Some young teens cannot manage the emotional, social, and psychological challenges of adolescence and eventually engage in destructive and violent behavior. Sadly, many states have ignored the crisis and dysfunction that creates child delinquency and instead have subjected kids to further victimization and abuse in the adult criminal justice system.

Fourteen states have no minimum age for trying children as adults. Children as young as eight have been prosecuted as adults. Some states set the minimum age at 10, 12, or 13. EJI believes that the adult prosecution of any child under age 14 for any crime should be banned.

Some 10,000 children are housed in adult jails and prisons on any given day in America. Children are five times more likely to be sexually assaulted in adult prisons than in juvenile facilities and face increased risk of suicide. EJI believes confinement of children with adults in jails and prisons is indefensible, cruel, and unusual, and it should be banned.

For children with parole-eligible sentences, unique release and re-entry challenges too often create insurmountable obstacles to parole and successful re-entry. Young people who have been in prison since they were adolescents need help learning basic life skills.


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