Wednesday, May 13, 2015

U.N. Calls for U.S. to Treat Youth in Conflict with the Law as Youth, Not Adults

For Immediate Release 
May 13, 2015       
Contacts: Cynthia Soohoo, cynthia.soohoo@law.cuny.edu                                         
Deborah LaBelle, deblabelle@aol.com
 
U.N. Calls for U.S. to Treat Youth in Conflict with the Law as Youth, Not Adults
 
Geneva- This week at the United Nations, government representatives called on the U.S. to end the practice of trying youth under 18 in the adult criminal justice system and incarcerating youth in adult jails and prisons.  Representatives also called for the U.S. to fully abolish life imprisonment without parole sentences for youth and to ratify the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC). The CRC obligates governments to treat youth under eighteen in conflict with the law as youth, to pursue alternatives to detaining youth, and to detain them only as a measure of last resort.
 
The statements were made during the U.S.’s Universal Periodic Review (UPR).  During the UPR, the U.N. Human Rights Council (HRC) reviews the human rights records of all member states of the U.N. every four years. The Juvenile Life Without Parole Initiative and the International Women’s Human Rights (IWHR) Clinic at CUNY School of Law submitted a report to the HRC in advance of the U.S. review, detailing the human rights violations youth face in the adult criminal system and in adult detention centers.
 
During the three-hour session, the Republic of Moldova expressed concern about the U.S. practice of holding youth under eighteen in adult detention facilities, and called on the U.S. to “ensure that youth in conflict with law are handled by the juvenile justice system and have access to free legal and advisory assistance.” Slovenia also urged the U.S. to keep youth under eighteen who are in conflict with the law within the juvenile system.
 
The criticism during the review echoes consistent concerns expressed about US treatment of youth in conflict with the law by UN human rights experts over the past year and half. “Again and again UN human rights bodies have called on the U.S. to stop subjecting youth to the adult criminal justice system,” said Cynthia Soohoo, IWHR Director.  “They have recognized that our current system places youth at great risk of physical and sexual violence, is inconsistent with what we know about youth culpability and capacity to change, and discriminatorily criminalizes minority youth.”  
 
Austria and Fiji encouraged the U.S. to abolish life without parole sentences (LWOP) for youth in all circumstances. Although the Supreme Court abolished LWOP sentences for youth convicted of non-homicide offenses, and banned mandatory LWOP for those convicted of homicide, judges can still elect to sentence youth to LWOP for homicide. Additionally, some states impose life-equivalent term-of-year sentences without parole on youth, and some refuse to apply the Supreme Court decisions retroactively for people currently serving LWOP sentences for offenses committed as youth. Where states do provide a parole review, in some cases it does not meet the Supreme Court’s standard of a “meaningful” opportunity for parole.
 
“The international human rights community has recognized that it is wrong to permanently imprison young people for offenses they commit while they are still developing and maturing. The U.S. must fully commit to upholding the human rights of youth by completely eradicating the sentence of life without parole for youth,” said Deborah LaBelle, Director of the Juvenile Life Without Parole Initiative.   
 
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