Alabama Youth Justice Alliance

New Year’s Resolutions

An estimated 40% of Americans make New Year’s resolutions every year. I will admit that though I never seem to keep them past the end of January, I usually end up making a few. The beginning of a new year seems like the tidiest time to tell ourselves that we will do better, be better, feel better, and generally improve our lives. We are full of hope in our ability and faith in what the next year will bring.

These days, it is easy to look at the political climate and lose hope in the ability of our various political bodies to make change. Recently, Congress narrowly avoided taking the country off the fiscal cliff. In what many would call a misguided attempt to make sense of a senseless tragedy, legislators all over the United States are putting forth bills that would make it easier to obtain guns, limit access to guns, arm school administrators, put more police officers in schools, and numerous other reactionary policies to the pain of seeing so many lives lost at such a young age. It is becoming increasingly difficult to get political parties to cooperate with one another and it looks as though very little is getting done. 2013 is the perfect time for our legislature to come up with some resolutions of its own.

As a juvenile justice advocate, I have some suggestions.

  1. Bring our laws regarding the treatment of children who commit crimes into accordance with the most recent scientific findings on the development of the human brain and the unique capacity of children to change. For more information on the latest scientific research and how it applies to these children, I suggest materials from the Campaign for Youth Justice and the Campaign for the Fair Sentencing of Youth.
  2. Invest in evidence-based programs that can rehabilitate children who misbehave rather than criminalizing the fact that children are not always capable of reasoning out the consequences of their actions.
  3. Before deciding to put armed police officers in every school in our country, be sure to consider the effectiveness of the practice and consider how it may impact the school to prison pipeline. The Justice Policy Institute has done a great job of synthesizing the research and has a helpful report.
  4. When considering policy change, remember that children are children and that we were all once children. Children make mistakes and sometimes, those mistakes hurt other people. Children should be held responsible for their mistakes, but children today do not deserve to be defined by those mistakes any more than we deserved to be defined by the stupid things we did when we were kids.

2013 brings with it unique challenges and unique opportunities just like any other year. Now is the time for our legislators to consider how they can use this year to improve the lives of our children and help give them the chance to grow into healthy, productive adults.

 

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