In Cuyahoga County, responses to youth crime have been rooted in outdated “tough-on-crime” policies and practices. This has led to the over-criminalization and mass incarceration of society’s most vulnerable people – children. At the ACLU of Ohio, we believe all children have the capacity to change and are deserving of second chances. Justice-involved youth should be provided with opportunities for treatment, rehabilitation, and positive reinforcement.
Here are our top 10 wishes for these children, and with comprehensive policy change, these wishes can one day be a reality:
Each child deserves a juvenile justice system that safeguards their rights, treats them with dignity, and prioritizes fairness and equity.
- Racial Equity.
Eliminate racial disparities and close the gap. In Cuyahoga County, Black children make up only 42% of the youth population, but they comprise 90% of the institutional population.
Keep children in our communities and reduce our reliance on youth jails and prisons by increasing access to community-based alternatives, diversion, family intervention, and restorative justice models.
- Reform juvenile detention.
Juvenile pre-trial detention should only be used for short-term confinement. When youth are detained, which should be a last resort, system actors must provide education, recreation, physical and mental healthcare, access to loved ones, and humane treatment.
- Elimination of the school-to-prison pipeline.
All children deserve a quality education with schools that empower them to learn and grow. We must end school discipline policies that funnel children into the juvenile justice system.
- Trauma-Informed care.
The juvenile justice system must utilize a trauma-informed approach to provide children with the services needed to address both mental health needs and trauma disorders.
- End Cuyahoga County’s overreliance on bindovers.
Children should not be tried as adults. Judges and the Cuyahoga County Prosecutor must prioritize retaining children in juvenile court to emphasize rehabilitation rather than punishment.
- Safe housing and communities.
All children deserve a safe and stable place to live. Access to affordable housing should be widely available and solutions to public safety should be community-led.
- Fair media coverage.
Children deserve fair media coverage. The media should cover youth crime responsibly rather than reinforcing the false narrative that youth crime is at an all-time high. Youth crime is trending downwards and has been consistently since the late 1990s.
- Ultimately, we want ALL KIDS TO BE TREATED LIKE KIDS.
Incarceration and the adultification of children are not solutions to public safety. All justice-involved children, regardless of their alleged crime, should remain in the juvenile justice system and be treated as children in need of care.