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NAACP Opposes Trying & Sentencing Youth as Adults

WHEREAS, policies and practices providing "adult time for adult crime" are often harmful-rather than helpful-to community safety, as evidenced by research demonstrating that prosecuting juveniles in the adult criminal system increases, rather than decreases, the likelihood that they will re-offend, as compared with handling them in the juvenile justice system; and

WHEREAS, youth of color are disproportionately represented in cases sent to adult court-as shown in 18 of the largest court jurisdictions where 82% of juvenile cases filed in adult court-involved youth of color; and

WHEREAS, more than 250,000 offenders under the age of 18 are sent each year to adult criminal courts across the United States, including an estimated 218,000 excluded from juvenile court jurisdiction, not because of the severity of their crimes, nor because they are habitual violent offenders, but because states have lowered the age of adulthood in the criminal code; and

WHEREAS, 75% of youth under age 18 sent to adult facilities will be released by the age of 22 and most will have been denied adequate education, mental health treatment, drug treatment, and employment skills training; and

WHEREAS, trying and sentencing youth in adult court is not reserved for the most serious, chronic, and violent juvenile offenders, but inappropriately includes more than half of the cases involving only nonviolent drug and property crimes; and

WHEREAS, there exist serious human rights concerns, as well as physical and emotional health concerns, when youth held in adult facilities are sexually assaulted five times more often, commit suicide eight times more often, and are assaulted with a weapon 50% more often than youth held in juvenile facilities; and

WHEREAS, research continues to establish and reaffirm that the adolescent brain-particularly the part that makes judgments, reins in impulsive behavior, and engages in moral and ethical reasoning-is not fully developed until age 19 or 20, laying the foundation for laws that prohibit youth under age 18 from taking on major adult responsibilities such as voting, jury duty, and military service; and

WHEREAS, the use of statutes or procedures that automatically exclude youth from the juvenile court without an assessment of individual circumstances denies them basic fairness; and

THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED, that the NAACP supports state and federal efforts to eliminate the practice of trying, sentencing, and incarcerating youthful offenders in the adult system.