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U.N. Questions the U.S. on Its Practice of Imprisoning Children with Adults

March 17, 2014

U.N. Expresses Concerns About Human Rights Violations Under International Law

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: March 17, 2014               

Contacts:       
Deborah LaBelle, Director, Juvenile Life Without Parole Initiative, DebLaBelle@aol.com, (734) 996-5620

Cindy Soohoo, Director, CUNY Law’s International Women’s Human Rights Clinic, Cynthia.Soohoo@law.cuny.edu, (718) 340-4329

Geneva, Switzerland – On Friday, the U.N. Human Rights Committee concluded review and questioning of the U.S. Government on its human rights record in Geneva. During the two day review, the Committee repeatedly expressed concern over the United States’ practice of imprisoning children in adult correctional facilities and asked to know what measures would be taken to ensure that children are not prosecuted as adults in criminal courts across the country.

The Committee noted that on any given day there are an estimated 6,000 juveniles in adult prisons and jails. It expressed concern that all states allow youth to be tried as adults in certain circumstances and that New York and North Carolina automatically try all 16 and 17 year olds as adults.

During the review, advocates pushed that the U.S. be held accountable for its actions under international human rights law. Cindy Soohoo, director of the International Women’s Human Rights Clinic at the City University New York School of Law, explained, “The Human Rights Committee has confirmed what juvenile justice activists have known for a long time. Incarceration of children in adult jails and prisons is unacceptable and violates basic human rights.”

The Committee also expressed concern about reports of use of Tasers on children in adult prisons in Michigan.  The Committee asked what steps the U.S. was taking to ensure that Tasers are not used indiscriminately, especially against vulnerable populations.

Deborah LaBelle, director of the Juvenile Life Without Parole Initiative at the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan, said, “The tasering of children is just one of the ill effects of incarcerating children as young as 14 in adult prisons without regard to their status as minors and the attendant need for protection, education and treatment that flow from that status.”

The Committee also emphasized that incarcerated youth are entitled to treatment and services appropriate for their age and development.  It asked what the U.S. was doing “to assure that all juveniles in detention are provided age appropriate supervision by correctional staff and are afforded access to educational, vocational, and other rehabilitative programs, such as counseling, taking into account their age and status?”

Nationally, the U.S. Department of Justice reports that approximately 200,000 youth under the age of 18 are prosecuted as adults in criminal court every year. As a result, thousands of children under 18 are held in adult jails and prisons at any one time. This practice has a glaringly disproportionate impact on children of color. Nationwide, African-American youth represent 17 percent of the overall youth population, yet they account for more than 50 percent of the youth sent to adult prisons.

In adult jails and prisons, children often share cells with adults and are disproportionately subjected to solitary confinement, despite the fact that these practices are prohibited under international law and constitute cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment.

The devastating effects of imprisoning children with adults have been well documented:

  • Children are more than five times as likely to have a substantiated incident of sexual violence and twice as likely to be physically harmed by staff.
  • In adult facilities, children are eight times more likely to commit suicide than those in juvenile facilities.
  • Children are disproportionately placed in solitary confinement. For instance, in New York City jails, 23 percent of adolescents are placed in solitary confinement at any given moment.
  • Children in the adult criminal system are 34 percent more likely to be re-arrested than those who remain in the juvenile system. The DOJ has linked high recidivism rates “to the lack of access to rehabilitative resources in adult corrections system.”

“We hope that the review will expose the ways in which the treatment of children in adult correctional facilities violate human rights and put pressure on the U.S. to ensure that children are no longer detained in adult facilities and are treated as they should be¬—as children,” Soohoo said.

The Committee’s concluding observations will be published at the end of the month.

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Related Categories: General News, IWHR

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