Policing and Punishing Childhood

Kids all over the country—especially Black and Brown kids—often don’t get to grow up feeling safe in the spaces where they should feel safest. Instead, they face hyper-surveillance from police and police proxies in schools and parks; are aggressively stopped by police at an early age; and are subjected to the trauma of arrest and the horrifying conditions of imprisonment before they even go to high school. Across the U.S., 43,000 children sit behind bars in juvenile correctional facilities, often for low-level offenses or before even seeing a trial. The criminal legal system has become more and more punitive of children over the past 50 years (alongside overall tough-on-crime legislation), becoming less focused on rehabilitation and more focused on punishment. 

For decades, impacted families and advocates have warned that youth incarceration increases recidivism risk, pushes kids further and further into the criminal legal system, destroys mental health, robs kids of educational opportunity, reduces their access to jobs in the future, exacerbates racial disparities, and costs taxpayers billions every year. These practices are harmful and expensive, and aren’t even effective at deterring crime. In fact, they make kids more likely to commit crimes or interact with police in the future, making our communities less safe. And perhaps most devastatingly, they mark a cultural and systemic failure on the part of Americans to simply treat kids like kids. 

If we want healthier, safer communities, we have to give children opportunities to thrive, not trap them in our punitive system of trauma, cages, and the criminalization of childhood.

To read our full report, click below.

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