It’s Time to Treat Our Youth as Youth:

The Physicians for Criminal Justice Reform Adopt a Policy Statement in Support of Keeping Youth out of the Adult Criminal Justice System

There is a reason why the medical field has pediatricians. It is the same reason why the justice system has juvenile court judges. Kids are fundamentally different from adults. As a result, they should be treated and cared for differently. Yet, nearly 200,000 youth enter the adult criminal justice system every year and 10,000 juveniles are housed in adult prisons and jails on any given day. These statistics take on an even more ominous and urgent meaning when we recognize that youth housed in adult jails are 36 times more likely to commit suicide than youth housed in juvenile detention facilities. As recently as last month, our country loss a 15-year old child in New Orleans to suicide while in an adult jail.

Physicians for Criminal Justice Reform (PfCJR) was founded by a group of physicians who were struck by the myriad of ways contact with the criminal justice system can lead to detrimental health outcomes for youth and adults.

The juvenile justice system like the field of pediatrics is about treating and rehabilitating children, because we know that children are not just “mini adults.” Biologically speaking, the brains of juveniles are still under construction—they do not have the neurological connections that facilitate executive functioning and the ability for complex decision making like adult brains. Yet, in some states, the law allows a child as young as 10 to be tried and treated as an adult, flying in the face of what we know about neurodevelopment.

When we allow youth to be treated as adults in the criminal justice system we are making kids vulnerable to things their minds and bodies are not mature enough to handle. We need a balance between holding youth accountable and acknowledging neurodevelopment and the society’s interest and commitment to rehabilitation.

In order to support this vision, the Board of Physicians for Criminal Justice Reform adopted a statement in October during National Youth Justice Awareness Month supporting the end of the prosecution, sentencing, and incarceration of youth under the age of 18 in the adult criminal justice system.

[Y]outh in adult jails and prisons are more likely to be sexually assaulted, physically assaulted and upon release, are more likely to re-offend than youth housed in juvenile facilities. Each of those experiences, as well as early developmental experiences that put adolescents at risk for involvement with the criminal justice system, result in long-lasting, negative physical and mental health consequences that could be avoided by juvenile justice reform that identifies and diverts at-risk youth. As doctors, it is our duty to make a united stand against environmental factors that affect both the mental and physical health outcomes of our patients. Read the full statement here.

We are proud to stand with the Campaign for Youth Justice and other advocates across the country in saying enough is enough. It is time to use science, data, and our experiential knowledge of youth to stop the treatment of youth as adults in the criminal justice system.

To learn more about Physicians for Criminal Justice Reform visit our website at:

You can also join PfCJR as physician, medical student, or friend.

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