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Families Challenge Juvenile Incarceration

Nationwide more than 50,000 children are incarcerated. (Steven Depolo/Flickr)
Nationwide more than 50,000 children are incarcerated. (Steven Depolo/Flickr)
May 10, 2016

NEW YORK - Community advocates are in Albany today asking state legislators to reform the juvenile justice system. New York is one of only two states that automatically prosecutes 16 and 17 year olds as adults.

But Jeannette Bocanegra, director of family engagement at Community Connections for Youth, says there good are reasons for holding young people to a different standard, a fact that is recognized in other areas of law.

"They don't know about consequences, their brains are still developing," says Bocanegra. "At 16, you can't enlist in the Army, you can't legally buy cigarettes, you can't drink, you can't legally sign any documents."

Nationally, more than 50,000 young people are in juvenile detention, correctional and other residential facilities, more than any other country in the world.

Mothers at the Gate, a new report by the Institute for Policy Studies, looks at family-led community organizations working for juvenile justice reform.

According to report co-author Karen Dolan, the research indicates there are many factors leading to the over-incarceration of youth, such as using police to patrol inside public schools.

"So, we see kids being referred to police rather than to the principal, for offenses that would not be illegal if they were 18 years old," she says. "So, you see a lot more criminalizing of children."

And Dolan points out that only 20 percent of incarcerated juveniles have been charged with violent offenses.

Overall, the incarceration of youth has declined somewhat over the past 20 years, but the reportays there's still work to be done.

Bocanegra says the message they're delivering to legislators today is a simple one.

"The money that's being invested in incarcerating young people and separating families is not working," she says. "So, let's invest in families and young people in the community that are mostly impacted."

Andrea Sears, Public News Service - NY