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Child Watch: Funneling Children into the Adult Criminal Justice System

By Marian Wright Edelman NNPA Columnist | 1/17/2014, noon

Like so many policies in our nation’s criminal justice system, youth of color are disproportionately affected and treated as adults. A Black boy born in 2001 has a one in three chance of going to prison in his lifetime and a Latino boy a one in six chance of the same fate.

The repercussions of treating youths as adults in the criminal justice system affect communities when young people returning home are denied jobs, educational opportunities, and housing as a result of having a criminal record. Families are torn apart by the immigration consequences of criminal records including deportation. The legacy of an adult criminal record on a child, his or her family, and his or her community is long lasting.

Advocates for youths in the system have helped reduce the number of children in adult jails and prisons 54 percent since 2000 and 22 percent since 2010 with commitment, hard work, and persistence. But an estimated 250,000 youths are still tried, sentenced, or incarcerated as adults each year. We must never give up on any child until we have tried every means to put them on the path to successful adulthood.

Marian Wright Edelman is president of the Children’s Defense Fund whose Leave No Child Behind® mission is to ensure every child a Healthy Start, a Head Start, a Fair Start, a Safe Start and a Moral Start in life and successful passage to adulthood with the help of caring families and communities. For more information go to www.childrensdefense.org.