Congress must replace youth prisons with something that actually helps youth

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The Hill on 10/5/2021 by Patrick McCarthy and K. Ricky Watson, Jr.

This past October marked Youth Justice Action Month, which has now become a national rallying cry for a new approach to youth justice. In the 13 years since the first action month, many conditions have changed for youth in the legal system, but one fact remains the same: the youth legal system doesn’t work.

Congress has the opportunity to build a youth legal system that truly puts the safety and well-being of young Americans first, by creating age-appropriate protections and practices for children who come into contact with the federal legal system, and passing a budget that includes funding for states to close and repurpose youth prisons.

Today, children as young as 6 years old are being pushed into courtrooms and expected to follow complex court proceedings that most adults have to attend law school and pass the bar exam to understand. While judges ask them whether they understand the ramifications of their actions, children color pictures with crayons as shackles intended for adults fall off their wrists.