Home News Center Press Release: No Child Under 14 Should be Sent to Juvenile Court

Press Release: No Child Under 14 Should be Sent to Juvenile Court

January 14, 2021


January 14, 2020
Courtney McSwain


No Child Under 14 Should be Sent to Juvenile Court
NJJN calls on all states to set a minimum age of prosecution at 14

(Washington, D.C.)— In its latest policy platform, Raise the Minimum Age for Trying Children in Juvenile Court,” the National Juvenile Justice network (NJJN) calls on all states to set a reasonable minimum age for prosecuting children and recommends that age be no lower than  14-years-old in accordance with the standards set forth by the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) and practices around the world; 14 is the most common minimum age of criminal responsibility internationally. 

Currently, over half the states (28 states) in the U.S. still have no minimum age of juvenile court jurisdiction. This has led to many examples of outrageous treatment of young children, including the arrest of a 6-year-old in Orlando for throwing a temper tantrum in school, the arrest of a 10-year-old in Detroit for throwing a ball at a child’s face during dodgeball, and the arrest of a 7-year-old in Kansas City for refusing to go to the principal’s office.

“Anyone who has spent time with a 6-year-old child knows that temper tantrums are a completely normal and expected aspect of their development. That a child would get arrested for exhibiting what every normal child at that age goes through is completely appalling and unacceptable. Sending a child under 14 to juvenile court should never be an option - ever,” says K. Ricky Watson, Jr., executive director at NJJN. 

In 2019, 36,691 youth aged 10-12 years old were arrested as were 2,550 youth under 10 years old. While this represents a decline from previous years, it is still far too many, NJJN says. Research cited in NJJN’s policy platform shows that young children don’t have the mental capacity to fully grasp what it means to break the law or understand the implications of their actions, which is an important standard for having the capacity to stand trial. In addition, research shows that there is a disproportionate criminalization of young black children. For instance, in 2018, Black children were only 16.9 percent of the 12 and under population in the U.S., yet they accounted for 35.8 percent of the youth processed in juvenile court. 

Miguel A. Garcia, policy coordinator with the Anti-Recidivism Coalition (ARC), an NJJN member organization, worked on advocacy efforts to raise the minimum age of jurisdiction in California to 12 years old, and recognizes  the importance of  establishing reasonable  minimum ages of prosecution.  He says, “We need to recognize that kids need to be developed, cared for and nurtured - not just punished. We know that punishment doesn’t work in terms of getting at the root causes of what kids are going through and getting them the help they need. As a society, we need to allocate more resources to kids who are living without the most important resources like food and employment for their families - things that are needed for them to grow up in a nurtured environment.”

Kent Mendoza, policy manager with the ARC also worked on raising the minimum age of jurisdiction in California. With his own lived experience in juvenile court at 14, Mendoza believes raising the minimum age of jurisdiction is important to disrupting the school-to-prison pipeline and helping young people develop positively. He says, “By prosecuting kids we traumatize them and they are not able to further their dreams. Locking them up increases the chances that they will fall into the ideologies of criminality that they learn from others in the system. Juvenile correctional facilities are prisons – they’re not designed to help kids. Instead you are telling kids that no one cares about them; that they’re failures who don’t have the potential to change. Do we want to help kids to develop into the best versions of themselves or worse versions?” 

Click HERE to read NJJN’s full policy platform.


The National Juvenile Justice Network leads a membership community of 60 state-based organizations and numerous individuals across 42 states and D.C. We all seek to shrink our youth justice systems and transform the remainder into systems that treat youth and families with dignity and humanity. Our work is premised on the fundamental understanding that our youth justice systems are inextricably bound with the systemic and structural racism that defines our society; as such we seek to change policy and practice through an anti-racist lens by building power with those who are most negatively affected by our justice systems, including young people, their families and all people of color. We also recognize that other vulnerable populations - including LGBTQIA+, those with disabilities and mental illness, girls and immigrants - are disparately and negatively impacted by our justice systems, and thus we also seek to center their concerns in our policy change work.

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