Outrage Over Handcuffed Children Leads States To Consider Raising Minimum Age of Arrest
A 6-year-old boy charged with a crime for picking a tulip. An 8-year-old whose wrists were too small for a pair of handcuffs. A 9-year-old girl handcuffed and pepper sprayed in the back of a police cruiser.
News stories and viral videos of small children being arrested and physically restrained have illustrated a disturbing fact about the American criminal justice system: In most states there’s no limit on when a small child can be considered a criminal. Now legislators around the country are pushing bills to raise the minimum age at which kids can be arrested.
Lawmakers in Colorado, Florida, Kentucky, Maryland, New York, and North Carolina have all introduced bills to restrict the arrests of small children, ban their handcuffing, and otherwise reduce interactions between kids and the criminal justice system. Mississippi enacted a law earlier this month raising the minimum age for juvenile detention from 10 to 12.
In North Carolina, an investigation by the Raleigh News and Observer revealed this month that children as young as 6—too young to comprehend what was happening in the courtroom—had been charged with crimes. The story’s lead anecdote involved a six-year-old boy charged with destruction of property for picking a tulip.
The News and Observer reports:
Other cases have involved young children who have broken windows at a construction site with older friends and stood on a chair and thrown a pencil at a teacher, attorneys said. Another case involved sexual exploration with another child, attorneys said.
One of Mitchell’s youngest clients was a 9-year-old with autism whose response to a teacher resulted in him being found guilty of assault on a government official.
A North Carolina mother filed a civil rights lawsuit last October against a policeman who handcuffed and held her autistic 7-year-old son prone on the ground for nearly 40 minutes.
Twenty-eight states have no minimum age for juvenile delinquency, while others set the bar low. North Carolina’s, for instance, is at age 6. TechDirt reports that North Carolina’s Juvenile Justice Division supports legislation that would raise the minimum age for criminal prosecution to 10.
In New York, where the minimum age of arrest and prosecution of children as juvenile delinquents is 7, public defender groups have sent a letter to Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo and party leaders pushing for passage of legislation to hike the age to 12. The push follows the release of body camera footage showing police in Rochester, New York, pepper spraying a handcuffed 9-year-old girl.
A bill introduced in the New York Senate would also prohib
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