Criminalization of Kids in the American Justice System

Criminalization of Kids in the American Justice System

The vision of the prospective reformers was to establish a therapeutic juvenile court that serves not only a child’s best interests but also offers them a personalized treatment. Following the Supreme Court’s Gault decision, the juvenile court has, ever since, been intensively and constantly reshaped (DiLallo, 2017). From being an informal juvenile welfare agency, the juvenile justice system is now a typical criminal court. The juveniles are increasingly receiving fewer protections as the juvenile court procedures are becoming like those in adult courts (Vitale, 2018). The youths are regularly being criminalized for offenses rather than receiving treatment for what their real needs are. This paper, by citing a few examples, briefly examines the criminalization of youths in the American juvenile justice system.

The current youth in the United States of America must not only endure the police brutality but also content with the dangerous assumptions, stereotypes, and criminalization because they perceive them as the would-be thugs and thus in need of immediate armed confinement (Vitale, 2018). According to the Equal Justice Initiative, there are 10, 000 youths who get confined in adult jails as well as prisons in ay day in the U.S (Vitale, 2018). Moreover, the institution reports that young children, aging eight years old, face adult-level prosecutions. Besides being criminalized for their age, skin color, gender, poverty as well as mental health impairments are also the significant facilitators of juvenile criminalization (Giroux, 2015; Vitale, 2018). While the ratio of female to male juveniles who are being criminalized almost doubling, the current statistics indicate that the youth of color are highly likely to be victimized and criminalized than as compared to their white counterparts.




In recent years, the Trump administration has substantially sensitized the tough-on-crime initiative, a move which has equated the youths with criminality (Vitale, 2018). Besides being forced away from their families to serve extended jail terms, the juveniles in the United States are inherently being subjected to abuse by police not at home but also in schools (DiLallo, 2017). For a long time now, the police across the U.S have successfully managed to label youths as “gang-related.” The police have registered thousands of teenagers in gang databases, subjected a myriad of them to injunctions, criminalized and forced others in conspiracy cases (Vitale, 2018). Labeling juveniles as gang members, the police as well as prosecutors have succeeded in demonstrating the young people as irreparable, an thus subject to extreme punishment.

In 2015, a 17-year-old El Paso from Texas received a 50-year sentence in prison following a fatal altercation with aggressive, off-duty police (DiLallo, 2017). A similar case occurred in 2017 when a 16-year old Shakara from Carolina was inhumanely dragged out of school and sent to jail for 90 days (DiLallo, 2017). This happened after the girl was caught using a phone in class, an act considered a crime and a punishable misdemeanor as per the state of South Carolina. Nevertheless, an 18-year old Kenny, a classmate to Shakira, having caught filming the event, was suspended immediately, arrested and transported to a detention center (DiLallo, 2017). For El Paso, even though he had no previous involvement with the justice system, a fifty-year jail sentence will have him about 70 years old at the end of the sentence. This is a long sentence, almost a death-in-prison sentence and a missed chance to support his development positively. These examples demonstrate how the U.S policies, as well as procedures, end up criminalizing the young people. Additionally, they stir up hot debates about what supporting children and their rights mean.

The U.S courts have implemented the death-penalty punishments for the juveniles and life without parole. Statistics show that about 2, 500 youths are currently serving life in prison sentence without parole due to crimes they committed while children (Vitale, 2018). The juvenile justice system for teens in New York and North Carolina is worse. The two states legalize 16 and 17-year-olds to be tried as adults (Vitale, 2018). Since the age of criminal responsibility in these states is 16, judges are encouraged to treat the youths as adults automatically (Vitale, 2018). Most children in these two states are criminalized and prosecuted at 16 as adults and incarcerated irrespective of the nature and severity of the crimes they have been accused of (DiLallo, 2017).

            The well-establishment U.S juvenile justice system has undergone significant changes over the years. All along, it is continually shifting away from the rehabilitative-oriented goals to a severely punitive approach. Criminalization of the youths has massively increased, and the juvenile courts are responding by processing the children as adults like never before (DiLallo, 2017; Vitale, 2018). This trend has seen young people go through a destructive justice system shaped to criminalize and deliver punitive justice instead of concentrating on enhancing the developmental progress of the youths. It is still unclear if youth criminalization in the U.S will remain a core part of the juvenile justice systems.





DiLallo, K. (2017, January 24). How the Criminalization of Adolescence Fuels the School-to-Prison Pipeline. Retrieved April 13, 2019, from

Giroux, H. A. (2015, November 11). Henry A. Giroux | Terrorizing Students: The Criminalization of Children in the US Police State. Retrieved April 13, 2019, from

VITALE, A. (2018, February 2). The Criminalization of Youth. Retrieved April 13, 2019, from