Criminal Justice Reforms Must Include Youth Behind Bars

Last week was unofficially criminal justice reform week. The president made an unprecedented statement on the need for criminal justice reforms at the NAACP’s national convening and made a first-ever visit by a president to a federal prison.

The U.S. House of Representatives’ Oversight Committee led by Chairman Jason Chaffetz and Ranking Member Elijah Cummings held hearings where a bipartisan group of Senators, Representatives and Governors along with other witnesses testified on the need to overhaul the criminal justice system, including federal statutes and the federal Bureau of Prisons.

Most of the discussions last week centered on federal laws and federal corrections, and not on reforming state laws and state and local detention and corrections. And the juvenile justice system received scant attention. To be fair, the president did make a couple of remarks about youth, such as, “We’ve got to make sure our juvenile justice system remembers that kids are different,” and “What is normal is young people making mistakes.” And among the hearing witnesses thanks to Representative Elijah Cummings, I testified about the need for juvenile justice reforms and several members of Congress did ask questions about youth in the justice system at the hearings.

The president and congress should not leave out youth behind bars in efforts to reform criminal justice this year and their actions must focus on reforms at both the federal and state level.

Here’s why:

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Liz Ryan 7/20/2015