Human Rights for Kids hosted a conversation entitled Treat Kids Like Kids: Why Congress Must Prioritize Criminal Justice Reform for ChildrenThe event featured both professionals and individuals with lived experience. They highlighted a series of important bills currently being proposed in the House of Representatives that aim to remedy many of the harms impacting youth involved in the criminal justice system.

With ages ranging from old to young, four individuals shared their heartbreaking stories about abuse in the foster care system, the “foster care to prison pipeline,” and the injustices of the legal system. The individuals were tried and sentenced as adults, despite being children at the time of their offense. Waiving Miranda Rights and confessing to crimes one did not commit are just a couple of the many consequences that come with subjecting a young developing brain to an adult criminal system. Although each of these individuals are now able to share their stories, almost all of them were sentenced to life in an adult prison without parole.

As the United States works towards creating a more empathetic and humane criminal justice system, Representatives on both sides of the aisle are proposing bills to support youth involved in the criminal justice system.

  • R.2858, introduced by Congressman Bruce Westerman (R- AR), would retroactively end life and de facto life without parole by giving individuals convicted of crimes as children the ability to petition a judge for sentencing review after serving 20 years; give judges the ability to depart from mandatory minimums when sentencing children; and protect child sex crime victims from harsh sentencing when they commit acts of violence against their abusers.
  • R.2908 (Childhood Offenders Rehabilitation and Safety Act of 2021), introduced by Congresswoman Karen Bass (D-CA), establishes a minimum age of 12 for criminal culpability; increases the minimum age for a child to be tried as an adult from 13 to 16; eliminates the felony murder rule for children; prohibits the placement of children in adult jails or prisons; requires data collection on youth who come into the federal criminal justice system; and establishes a grant block program for treatment and services for children under 12 and child victims of commercial sexual exploitation.
  • R.2834, introduced by Congressman Tony Cárdenas (D- C.A.), requires parents to be notified when a child is arrested and requires that the child consults with legal counsel before they can waive their Constitutional Rights and be subject to custodial interrogation.

Each of these bills proposes a significant step towards “treating kids like kids” and prioritizing justice within our juvenile justice system. For those interested in being more involved to end these human rights abuses against children in the U.S. justice system, CWLA encourages you to contact your members of Congress today and ask them to co-sponsor and support Sara’s Law and the bipartisan package of reforms to advance to ensure our legal system treats children like children.