The Campaign for Youth Justice’s Statement on The Promise of Adolescence Report
In the aptly titled National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine Report, The Promise of Adolescence: Realizing the Opportunity of All Youth, the Committee on Neurobiological and Socio-Behavioral Science of Adolescent Development and Its Applications acknowledges that the period of adolescence provides many “opportunities for positive development and recovery from past adversity.” It also recognizes some of the structural limitations to providing opportunities to some adolescents:
“The promise of adolescence can be severely curtailed by economic, social, and structural disadvantage and, in all-toomany cases, by racism, bias, and discrimination. These potent societal determinants shape adolescents’ life-course trajectories in multiple ways. They reduce access to opportunities and supports enjoyed by more privileged youth, and they also expose less privileged youth to excess risks, stresses, and demands. …..Disparities in adolescent outcomes are not immutable. They are responsive to changes in underlying conditions, and adolescents themselves show resilience and demonstrate strengths and assets that may be utilized to overcome inequities.”
While the Campaign for Youth Justice recognizes these recommendations as an important first step, we believe the Committee missed a significant opportunity to call for the end of the prosecution and incarceration of youth under eighteen in the criminal justice system, through their recommendations for justice-involved youth:
“Legislatures should restore judicial discretion in decision making about transferring juveniles to or from criminal courts…[and that] [j]udges sentencing juveniles in criminal courts should place these youth in juvenile correctional settings rather than adult correctional facilities.” https://www.nap.edu/read/25388/chapter/13#342
In the section dedicated to understanding the impact of transfer, the Committee outlines several significant reports that indicate the harms associated with prosecuting youth as adults. This includes the fact that youth in the adult system are more likely to be exposed to harsher and longer sentences, sexual violence, and “toxic settings” within adult facilities. The Committee also highlights the incredibly disparate treatment of Black youth in the transfer process, which often results in longer adult prison terms.
However, the Committee concludes this section by stating that the research is “mixed” on the impact of transfer and the “mechanisms by which juveniles should or should not be prosecuted in criminal courts.”
The Campaign for Youth Justice believes that it is critical to acknowledge the historical context of the adultification of children and the systemic racism that underlies the practice. It is not by mistake that Black youth and other youth of color are disproportionately represented at the point of transfer, it is by historical design. It is the result of well documented historical oppression and racial terror along with current societal biases and under-investment in communities of color; practices that continue to permeate our society by dehumanizing and adultifying children of color. The Committee recommends that all youth, no matter their court of jurisdiction, should have access to the services and treatment provided in the juvenile justice system. Yet, they stop short of calling for youth to remain in juvenile court.
The Committee acknowledges the causes and impact of inequality on adolescents, but fails to connect that historical and societal context to the purpose and practice of transferring youth to the adult system. We believe that identifying this notable gap provides an opportunity for an investment in further research that considers the full and lived experiences and expertise of children, youth, and families who have been directly impacted by the criminal justice system.