On any given night in America, 10,000 children are held in adult jails and prisons, according to an August statement from the Bureau of Justice Statistics.
Several AU students have become active with the Campaign for Youth Justice because they oppose housing minors in adult prisons.
CFYJ is an organization determined to eliminate the trying, sentencing and incarceration of youth under the age of 18 in the adult criminal justice system.
Once an individual turns 18, he or she is legally an adult in the U.S. There is a general assumption that if a criminal is under the age of 18, he or she would be placed in a juvenile hall.
But if a child is prosecuted in the adult criminal justice system, the federal laws do not protect him/her from being placed in an adult penitentiary.
School of Public Affairs junior Deon Jones works for CFYJ as a national spokesperson. Growing up in Atlanta, Jones saw several people he knows and loves in and out of jail.
“I got involved with CFYJ after I met a 14-year-old with dyslexia who was placed in an adult prison in Tennessee for a drug charge,” Jones said. “Working [with CFYJ] makes me feel like I am doing my life’s work.”
College of Arts and Science Professor Robert Johnson said sentencing a minor to life without parole is similar to sentencing a minor to the death penalty.
“We know from neurology that juveniles are less mature in their brain development than adults,” Johnson said. “This is reason to say that they would be more impulsive and less culpable for their actions than an adult.”
One of CFYJ’s major concerns is that when a minor is held in prison with adults, the minor is learning to become a better adult criminal. Generally, minors do no have access to proper education in adult imprisonments.
The inmates in juvenile halls have the chance to continue schooling and even obtain their high schools diplomas, according to the CFYJ website.
Even harsher consequences can be thrust upon youths who have been sentenced to adult penitentiaries.
“When minors enter the adult system they are likely to be abused physically and sexually,” Johnson said. “This has resulted in an increasingly high suicide rate for youths in the adult system.”
Students at AU can became involved by participating in The First Annual Justice for Youth Summit. The summit will be held in the Katzen Arts Center on October 12 from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. CFYJ is partnering with the Justice Programs Office of the SPA Justice, Law and Society Department to sponsor the event.
“People often focus on the success stories regarding children from inner cities,” Jones said. “We tend to forget about the kids who are struggling to make it out of the hood. They could even be our brothers or sisters.”