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New report shows charging youth as adults in the legal system presents human rights violations

By Seattle Human Rights Commission

As a part of its 2021 Fellowship Program, the Seattle Human Rights Commission (SHRC) designated a team of fellows from the University of Washington – Vitoria Faustino, Katherine Lin, and Sarah Miller – to examine the practice and resulting consequences of charging youth as adults in the United States, with a focus on the Seattle region.

Under the supervision of Commissioner Claire Guilmette and Commissioner Robel Mulugeta, the team performed research on the psychological, legal, and historical underpinnings of the practice of charging youth as adults, conducted interviews with community organizations and regional stakeholders, and wrote a report with recommendations based on their investigation.

The takeaways from the team’s research are that charging youths as adults undermines the corrective and judiciary purposes of the criminal justice system, deprives them of access to effective resources for rehabilitation, places them in positions of endangerment, and contributes to coercive plea-bargaining. The practice disproportionately affects people of color and directly worsens racial disparities. Youth of color charged as adults receive disproportionate adjudications and sentences; and suffer disproportionate lasting ramifications.

The final report provides a foundation of the history and inner workings of the juvenile justice system and the problematic practice of auto decline or charging a child as an adult. The report recommends: 1) directing policy changes to push the complete removal of auto decline and to improve court practices, 2) investing in communities and the use of alternative community programs instead of prison, and 3) the removal of the current culture and practice of the school-to-prison pipeline through policy and school environment.

“We hope that this report and its insight will be beneficial to the Seattle City Council, the Seattle Mayor, the King County Council, the King County Executive, and the Washington State Legislature and Governor in their deliberations on improving the criminal justice system,” said Seattle Human Rights Commission Co-Chair Tyrone Grandison.

The full report is available to read here.