SAN FERNANDO, Calif. /California Newswire/ — In Washington, D.C., as part of the President’s recognition of Youth Justice Awareness Month, U.S. Rep. Tony Cárdenas (D-San Fernando Valley, Calif.), a member of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce and long-time juvenile justice reform advocate, yesterday introduced legislation to stop the barbaric practice of putting kids in jail for offenses that would not be “crimes” if those children were adults.
Last year, more than 8,000 American children were sent to jail for supposed “crimes” like running away from home, trying beer for the first time and skipping school.
“The irony is so immense, that we are making the worst possible choice we can, by putting kids in jail for making bad choices,” said Cárdenas. “Kids make mistakes as kids. They do things that are stupid, or misguided, but which should not be considered crimes for which they can go to jail. An American child should not have their life ruined by getting a criminal record and serving jail time for skipping school, or running away from an abusive household. We have to fix this, and we have to do it now.”
Cárdenas’ legislation, H.R. 3782, the Prohibiting Detention of Youth Status Offenders Act, will keep American children out of jail for “status offenses,” offenses that would not be judicial issues if the offender were not a juvenile. This includes “offenses” like breaking curfew, running away from home or skipping school.
The principles in this legislation have long enjoyed bipartisan, bicameral support and were included in S. 1169, the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Reauthorization Act of 2015 that recently passed the Senate Judiciary Committee on voice vote.
Even with scientific knowledge showing the negative impact of putting children in jail for status offenses and federal law banning such actions, the Valid Court Order (VCO) exception (a loophole to avoid the federal ban) is used thousands of times every year to incarcerate children for these “offenses.”
Many states have already made using the “VCO exception” illegal. Cárdenas’ bill will ban it nationwide.
H.R. 3782 was cosponsored by Reps. Cohen, Cummings, Ellison, Grijalva, Gutierrez, Jackson Lee, Moore, Rangel, Richmond, Scott (VA) and Vargas.
Text of the bill is available on Cárdenas’ website (PDF): http://cardenas.house.gov/sites/cardenas.house.gov/files/2015%20VCO%20bill.pdf