YCA Criminal Justice Policy
YCA is dedicated to enacting policy that will reform the criminal justice system as it affects American minors. Our goal is to create a system that rehabilitates youth offenders instead of perpetuating a cycle of incarceration that continues into adulthood. We believe the following policies will transform the criminal justice system into a more just and fair institution, working to improve the youth of American society.
YCA endorses the use of Restorative Justice practices in dealing with youth, where victims and offenders recognize each other as members of a community where respect for the law inspires respect among the community’s members. Using this approach for minor or petty offenses reduces the burden on the court system and fosters learning through the use of mediation, apology, and offering victims the opportunity to influence which form of community service is appropriate to be performed by offenders.
Safe Harbor Laws
YCA supports the enactment of Safe Harbor laws, preventing criminal charges against minors for actions that would not be considered criminal by adults, but discourage and condemn involuntary institutionalization or abuse by law enforcement of any minor taken into custody for their own protection.
YCA believes that early intervention is crucial for youth with mental illness, addiction, head injuries or developmental disabilities. As such, we affirm that clinicians and social services should be made available at the earliest possible juncture in order to diagnose and prescribe effective behavioral management programs within institutional settings where youth are held in custody.
Additionally, criminal justice proceedings should ensure that youth with Mental Health (MH) or Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (IDD) needs are legally represented in a manner conducive to positive outcomes for persons with such needs, and that the onus of ensuring justice under such circumstances is the on the state.
Law Enforcement Constraints
YCA opposes the unnecessary constraint by application of shackles or handcuffs to children and youth who can be determined not to represent a safety or flight risk. This practice poses a psychological threat during critical early interactions with law enforcement and institutions of justice, where cooperative behavior should be rewarded with reasonable freedom and individual respect.
Decriminalization of Truancy
YCA supports the decriminalization of truancy and runaway behavior entirely. Jurisdictions should implement alternative measures to financial penalties that will encourage family compliance with educational mandates while minimizing adverse effects of policies on both teachers and families, and establishment of school-based interventions to respond to excessive absences by children. Such interventions must mandate due diligence of investigative practices to determine the root causes of absences or flight from homes and communities by youth.
Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act
YCA endorses the implementation of the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act, and encourage greater judicial discretion in sentencing while curbing the power of attorneys representing the state in a manner conducive to more equitable justice and better outcomes for communities and their youth who are at risk.
Encourage access to justice by reforming criminal discovery law to allow broader disclosure of information by prosecution to defense attorneys in order to prevent the withholding of exculpatory evidence.
Bearing in mind the disparate impact on youth, we call for reforms to collection practices for fines and fees, including a higher standard of investigation on behalf of defendants who may face jail time due to debts owed to the state or private creditors as a result of their inability to pay. Furthermore, we encourage data-driven assessments of risk to prevent needless incarceration of low-risk defendants awaiting trial or hearings as a result of bond amounts in excess of the defendants’ abilities to pay.
Publication and accessibility of tribal law to community members and attorneys, Compliance with the Indian Child Welfare Act, a legally pluralistic approach to legislation affecting Indian peoples which respects tribal rights to self-determination while supporting collaborative efforts between state and tribal governments, use of cultural connectedness agreements in adoption, –
We support the reauthorization of the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act, the passage of the Homeless Youth and Trafficking Prevention Act
School to Prison Pipeline
YCA condemns practices that detract from the overall quality of education and favor the incarceration of students in grades K-12. Zero-tolerance policies have lead to an increase in arrests for minor classroom misbehaviors (Elias, 2). These policies disproportionately affect Black students, as they are three times more likely to face suspension or expulsion than their white peers.