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Children in Conflict with the Law

In international declarations there is a strong emphasis against holding children in detention.

The Convention on the Rights of the Child was adopted by the UN General Assembly in 1989, and entered into force as a treaty in 1990. It is legally binding on the countries that have ratified it. Article 37 addresses what governments can and cannot do in dealing with children in conflict with the law:

Article 37

States Parties shall ensure that:

(a) No child shall be subjected to torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. Neither capital punishment nor life imprisonment without possibility of release shall be imposed for offences committed by persons below eighteen years of age;

(b) No child shall be deprived of his or her liberty unlawfully or arbitrarily. The arrest, detention or imprisonment of a child shall be in conformity with the law and shall be used only as a measure of last resort and for the shortest appropriate period of time;

(c) Every child deprived of liberty shall be treated with humanity and respect for the inherent dignity of the human person, and in a manner which takes into account the needs of persons of his or her age. In particular, every child deprived of liberty shall be separated from adults unless it is considered in the child's best interest not to do so and shall have the right to maintain contact with his or her family through correspondence and visits, save in exceptional circumstances;

(d) Every child deprived of his or her liberty shall have the right to prompt access to legal and other appropriate assistance, as well as the right to challenge the legality of the deprivation of his or her liberty before a court or other competent, independent and impartial authority, and to a prompt decision on any such action.

The emphasis on diverting children from prison actually extends to diversion from court proceedings altogether. Governments have adopted a number of measures to accomplish this, from police cautions (formal warnings), to treatment programmes, to restorative justice conferences. See Restorative Justice as a Diversion from the Criminal Justice System for more information.

Ten things every juvenile court judge should know about trauma and delinquency. Kristine Buffington, et. al. (2011). Technical Assistance Bulletin. Reno, NV: National Council of Juvenile & family Court Judges.
From the bulletin by Kristine Buffington, et. al. : The majority of youth who develop a pattern of delinquent behaviors and experience subsequent juvenile court involvement have faced both serious adversities and traumatic experiences. Research continues to show that most youth who are detained in juvenile detention centers have been exposed to both community and family violence and many have been threatened with, or been the direct target of, such violence (Abram et al., 2004; Wiig, Widom, & Tuell, 2003). Studies also demonstrate that youth who have multiple exposures to violence or victimization are at higher risk for mental health problems, behavioral problems, substance abuse, and delinquent behaviors (Ford, Chapman, Hawke, & Albert, 2007; Ford, Elhai, Connor, & Frueh, in press; Saunders, Williams, Smith, & Hanson, 2005; Tuell, 2008).
Policing youth: Can procedural justice nurture youth cooperation with police? Kristina Murphy & Alana Gaylor. (2011). Working Paper #6. Alfred Deakin Research Institute.
From the report by Kristina Murphy & Alana Gaylor: The present study aims to examine whether perceptions of police legitimacy mediate the effect of procedural justice on young people’s willingness to assist police in collaborative crime control. Whilst research conducted in the United States in adults (e.g., Sunshine & Tyler, 2003; Tyler, 2006b) demonstrates the significance of procedural justice in fostering cooperation with police, little research has been conducted on the relationship between procedural justice and cooperation in youth. Whilst the five youth studies discussed above are informative there are clear problems that affect their applicability. As highlighted, Piquero et al (2005), Fagan and Tyler (2005) and Hinds (2007) did not extend their interpretation of results to include the effect that procedural justice and police legitimacy has on the willingness of youth to cooperate with police in crime control efforts. Reisig and Lloyd’s (2009) study has difficulties generalising to Western jurisdictions, and Hinds (2009) only reported whether young people would be willing to assist police if asked. She did not ascertain whether young people would also voluntarily assist police in reporting crime. This is an important limitation given that Skogan and Frydl (2004, pp. 327-331) have recently argued that understanding how to motivate public cooperation with the police during encounters and for assisting in crime control is the most important future research topic in policing.
Bringing youth home: A national movement to increase public safety, rehabilitate youth, and save money. (2011). National Juvenile Justice Network.
From the report published by the National Juvenile Justice Network: Over the past several years, many states across the country [the USA] have dramatically reduced the number of youth held in secure facilities. Some states have achieved these reductions by downsizing existing populations in secure facilities; others have shuttered entire institutions. While the population reduction is noteworthy in and of itself, it has been accompanied by powerful data. Most states that have downsized or closed facilities have been able to save or reallocate money2 while protecting public safety, due to the high expense of incarceration, and the greater effectiveness of less costly community based alternatives. Additionally, evidence shows that these population reductions have not, as some may have predicted, led to an increase in youth crime; in fact, crime rates have either remained steady or even declined, demonstrating an increase in public safety. The simultaneous increase in public safety and reduction of secure facility populations is supported by research indicating that community-based supervision is as effective as incarceration for youth who have committed serious offenses.
No place for kids: The case for reducing juvenile incarceration. Richard A. Mendel (2011). Baltimore, MD: The Annie E. Casey Foundation.
From the report by Richard A. Mendel: For more than a century, the predominant strategy for the treatment and punishment of serious and sometimes not-so-serious juvenile offenders in the United States has been placement into large juvenile corrections institutions, alternatively known as training schools, reformatories, or youth corrections centers.
Alternative actions that work: A review of the research on police warnings and alternative actions with children and young people. Kaye McLaren (2010). Wellington: Police Youth Services Group, New Zealand Police.
From the report by Kaye McLaren: ‘Alternative Actions that Work’ is a review of research on ‘what works’ in Police Warnings and Alternative Actions with children and young people who offend. The emphasis of the review is on the practical implications for those in the field. ‘Alternative Actions that Work’ links high quality international research with each step of the Police youth Alternative Action and Warning processes in New Zealand.
Llegando a los marginados de Lesoto
A finales de agosto, la C. C. de Lesoto se asoció con Visión del Mundo para un taller de 3 días titulado “Agentes Constructores de la Comunidad.” Atendiendo a 20 hombres jóvenes conocidos como “muchachos del rebaño”, el taller buscó elevar la conciencia sobre el daño del delito y la responsabilidad por las acciones realizadas.
Child-friendly legal aid in Africa. Thomas F. Geraghty & Diane Geraghty. (2011). UNODC and UNICEF.
From the paper by Thomas F. Geraghty and Diane Geraghty: This paper explores the legal, policy, and practical issues involved in creating and maintaining “child‐friendly” legal aid programs in Africa.
Resolution, reinvestment, and realignment: Three strategies for changing juvenile justice. Jeffrey A. Butts & Douglas N. Evans (2011). New York: John Jay College of Criminal Justice.
From the report by Jeffrey A. Butts and Douglas N. Evans: As violent crime declined across the United states after 1995, the number of young offenders placed in secure correctional facilities also fell, but not in every state and not to the same degree. the crime rate and youth incarceration are not linked in the way that many people expect. Incarceration sometimes fluctuates in concert with crime rates and sometimes it does not. often, the two diverge entirely.
Criteria for the design and evaluation of juvenile justice reform programmes. Interagency Panel on Juvenile Justice (2011). Vienna: United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime.
From the handbook: Evidence-based programming requires that programme outcomes be monitored and evaluated in order to determine whether the programme’s objectives have been achieved. It also requires that evaluation findings be reviewed and integrated into future programming and that good practices and lessons learned through the conduct of previous programmes be identified and taken into account in designing future interventions. In order to carry out all those steps, sound measuring techniques and processes and clear criteria for measuring programme outcomes are required.
Administrative detention of children: A global report. Carolyn Hamilton, et. al. (2011). Discussion Paper. The Children's Legal Centre and UNICEF.
From the discussion paper by Carolyn Hamilton, et. al.: In 2009, the United Nations Children’s Fund estimated that there were around 1.1 million children deprived of their liberty by criminal courts worldwide. While judicial detention of children by courts is relatively well documented, little is known about the practice of administrative detention of children. Few publications address the issue and States do not regularly collect or collate statistical data on administrative detention. As a result, information on the extent to which children are exposed to different forms of administrative detention is sparse and discussions of the impact that such detention has on children rare.
Young people on remand in Victoria: balancing individual and community interests. Matthew Ericson & Tony Vinson. (2010). Richmond, VIC, Australia: Jesuit Social Services.
From the report by Matthew Ericson and Tony Vinson: The contemporary focus of remand policy and decisions in most jurisdictions now emphasises the risk of offending on bail with a commensurate increase in restrictive bail practices. By contrast, the purpose of bail was to prevent the unnecessary detention of a defendant before conviction. However, in response to public attitudes, the Australian state legislatures have gradually reduced judicial discretion over bail decisions since the 1970s. The broad international consensus favours reducing the use of pre-trial detention and, whenever possible, encouraging the use of alternative measures such as release on bail or personal recognizance. The aversion to pre-trial detention is based on a cornerstone of the international human rights regime: the presumption of innocence afforded to persons accused of committing a crime.
Juvenile justice and street children. Theresa Kilbane (2011). Social Norms and Protection for Children from Violence Child Protection, Programme Division UNICEF, New York.
From the presentation by Theresa Kilbane: Street children are not a unified group. They are made up of individuals, each with their own history and dreams. They are usually not alone, they have family and peers. The reasons a child may be living on the street can vary. It could be a combination of family and community stressors, such as the absence of a parent or parents and other adult relatives; economic problems such as poverty, unemployment and homelessness. It could be from their own agency and choice. They may have migrated or immigrated. They face risks such as abuse and violence – from peers, from authorities, from those who discriminate against them, and from others who want to exploit them. To consider street children, one must recognize the complexities of driving, protective and inhibiting factors in the circumstances of street children, that there are differences between children, communities and countries.
What makes juvenile offenders different from adult offenders? Kelly Richards (2011). Trends & issues in crime and criminal justice. No. 409.
From the briefing paper by Kelly Richards: Until the mid-nineteenth century, there was no separate category of ’juvenile offender’ in Western legal systems and children as young as six years of age were incarcerated in Australian prisons (Cunneen & White 2007). It is widely acknowledged today, however, both in Australia and internationally, that juveniles should be subject to a system of criminal justice that is separate from the adult system and that recognises their inexperience and immaturity. As such, juveniles are typically dealt with separately from adults and treated less harshly than their adult counterparts.
The impact of prosecuting youth in the adult criminal justice system: A review of the literature. (2010) UCLA School of Law Juvenile Justice Project. [EN]
From the paper by the UCLA School of Law Juvenile Justice Project: The juvenile justice system was founded with the goal to serve the best interests of the child, with an understanding that youth possessed different needs than adults. Transfer laws1 represent a departure from that traditional understanding of juvenile justice and are contrary to fundamental notions of justice. As the overwhelming majority of research studies show, the adult criminal justice system is ill-equipped to meet the needs of youth offenders at all stages of the process, from trial to sentencing options to incarceration. The findings of this literature review indicate that justice is not served by forcing juveniles through a system never intended to process youth and that transfer laws have exacerbated the problems they sought to address.
Improving the effectiveness of juvenile justice programmes: A new perspective on evidence-based practices. Mark W. Lipsey, et. al, (2010). Washington, DC: Georgetown University. Public Policy Institute. Center for Juvenile Justice Reform. [EN]
From the paper by Mark W. Lipsey, et. al: Juvenile justice systems in the United States have long struggled with the inherent tension between their role in meting out punishment for violations of law and their role as an authoritative force for bringing about constructive behavior change in the wayward youth who commit those violations. Our view is that the overarching and intertwined goals of juvenile justice should be ensuring public safety—protecting the public from any additional harm caused by juvenile offenders—and altering the life trajectories of those juveniles to not only reduce further criminal behavior but to improve their chances to prosper as productive citizens. Attaining those goals requires the capability to control behavior in the short term and the means to induce self-sustaining behavior change that will persist after youth are no longer under court supervision.
The Missouri Model: Reinventing the practice of rehabilitation youthful offenders. Richard A. Mendel (2010). Baltimore, Maryland: The Annie E. Casey Foundation.
From the report by Richard A. Mendel: A sea change is on the horizon in juvenile corrections. For more than a century, the predominant model for the treatment, punishment, and rehabilitation of serious youthful offenders has been static: confinement in a large, congregate-care correctional facility. While the labels assigned to these institutions have changed periodically over the years— reform school, training school, youth corrections facility—the institutions themselves have changed little. In most states, these institutions still house the bulk of all incarcerated youth and still consume the lion’s share of taxpayer spending on juvenile justice.
Getting the facts straight about girls in the juvenile justice system. (2009). NCCD Center for Girls and Young Women.
From the factsheet by NCCD Center for Girls and Young Women: To fulfill one part of its mission, the Center for Girls and Young Women will present the public with an accurate account of girls in the juvenile justice system. Misconceptions abound regarding girls that are detained and incarcerated. Meaningful change is needed at the national, state, and local levels to prevent and respond appropriately to girls’ delinquency.
Punishing processes in youth court: Procedural justice, court atmosphere and youths' views on legitimacy of the justice system. Carolyn Greene, et. al., (2010). Canadian Journal of Criminology and Criminal Justice. 52(5):527-544.
This study examined the effect of courtroom atmosphere on a defendant’s perception of the fairness of the criminal justice system.
Overview of prevention and intervention programs for juvenile offenders. Peter Greenwood & Susan Turner. (2009). Victims & Offenders. 4(4): 365-374. [EN]
This paper discusses ways to reduce juvenile delinquency.
Gang prevention: An overview of research and programs. James C. Howell. (2010). Juvenile Justice Bulletin. US Department of Justice.
From the research bulletin by James C. Howell: This bulletin presents research on why youth join gangs and how a community can build gang prevention and intervention services. The author summarizes recent literature on gang formation and identifies promising and effective programs for gang prevention.
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