Children tried as adults face danger, less chance for rehabilitation

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Patrick* entered an Alabama prison at the age of 16.

In a little more than a year behind bars, he has witnessed more than 30 stabbings. He learned some lessons: Failing to turn over his property when a prisoner demands it puts him at risk of being stabbed, as does refusing a sexual overture. This thought hangs over him constantly.  

He is always on guard, ready to fight for his survival.

Patrick is one of about 1,200 children under the age of 18 who are being held in adult prisons across the country. The number is about 10,000 when local adult jails are included.

In Alabama, children as young as 14 can be charged and convicted as adults for any alleged offense. Neighboring Florida sends more children into adult criminal court – and into adult prisons – than any other state.

“[I]n adult court, they want to lock us up,” Sander A., a Florida youth, told Human Rights Watch for a recent report. “In juvenile court they want to help us make better choices.”

That, in a nutshell, is why children should not be tried as adults. The research is clear that children in the adult criminal justice system are more likely to reoffend than if they are held in the juvenile justice system. Still, thousands are sent into the adult system every year in the Deep South. 

This month, the Southern Poverty Law Center hosted or sponsored events in AlabamaMississippi,Louisiana and Florida as part of National Youth Justice Awareness Month, a national campaign organized by the Campaign for Youth Justice to highlight the serious and devastating consequences of sending children into adult courts, jails and prisons.

“It is time to recognize the toll that misguided ‘tough-on-crime’ policies have taken on youths across this country,” said Jerri Katzerman, SPLC deputy legal director. “These policies have not only failed to make our communities safer, but have endangered children and needlessly derailed young lives.”

Research has shown that children in the adult criminal justice system are 34 percent more likely to...

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