Abrams Calls for End to Criminalizing Children

Social Welfare Chair Laura Abrams co-authored a Washington Post opinion piece on the consequences of criminalizing childhood misbehavior and mental health problems. “Arresting children is counterproductive and unethical,” wrote Abrams and co-author Elizabeth S. Barnert of the UCLA David Geffen School of Medicine. Appearing after the release of video footage showing police in Rochester, N.Y., using pepper spray and handcuffs on a 9-year-old girl, the op-ed called on the United States to set a national minimum age of juvenile court jurisdiction of at least 12. Currently, they wrote, “47 states have the power to forcibly arrest elementary-school-age children and do so regularly.” Abrams and Barnert cited their research showing that child incarceration elevates the risk of trauma and abuse, behavioral and mental health problems, and future involvement in the criminal justice system. They also pointed to systemic racism, noting that, compared with white children, Black youths under 12 are 2.5 times more likely to be referred to juvenile court.

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