For Immediate Release
Hartford, Conn. — Seven Connecticut health associations and the Nobel Prize-winning organization Physicians for Human Rights gathered at the state Capitol today to urge Connecticut to remove youth from the adult criminal justice system. Connecticut is one of only three states that tries 16 and 17 year olds as adults and incarcerates them in adult prisons. All youths 16 and older, even those accused of minor, non-violent offenses, are now treated as adults.
"Health professional associations of Connecticut are unanimous in their support for trying, sentencing and treating children as children," said Leonard Rubenstein, executive director of Physicians for Human Rights. "The decision by the Supreme Court of the United States to outlaw the use of the death penalty on juveniles was motivated by the clear evidence that children do not have the same decision-making capabilities as adults. The State of Connecticut has an opportunity to take the next important step in reforming how the US justice system treats children."
Health professionals at the state Capitol today talked about the developmental consequences of placing children with adult prisoners. They also cited research demonstrating that youths who remain in the juvenile system have much lower recidivism rates.
"Harsh environments such as adult prisons do not support adolescent development. Instead, these prisons are likely to interfere with growth and development and encourage the very behavior we want to extinguish," said Dr. Steven Berkowitz, a child psychiatrist from the Yale School of Medicine’s Child Study Center.
A letter from Physicians for Human Rights and the seven health associations — The Connecticut State Medical Society, Connecticut Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, Connecticut Psychiatric Society, Connecticut Council of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, Connecticut Psychological Association, National Alliance on Mental Illness-Connecticut, and National Association of Social Workers-Connecticut Chapter – calls on the state to return youth to the juvenile justice system, where far more extensive rehabilitative services are available to them.
A growing coalition of legislators has promised to champion legislation this session that would return all non-violent minors to the juvenile system.
"Some of the best minds in the state are telling us what we as parents know instinctively: Sixteen year olds are not adults. To incarcerate them with adult criminals is to rob them of their youth and their future," said state Senator Ed Meyer of Guilford, a former prosecutor and chair of the legislature’s Committee on Children.
Senator Toni Harp of New Haven agreed. "The very people we trust with our children's health are telling us that we're doing something dangerous," she said. "When pediatricians, child psychologists, social workers and other skilled, caring professionals speak as one to the Legislature, we must listen."
Harp and Representative Toni Walker, also of New Haven, co-chair a legislative committee charged with examining the consequences of raising the age of adult jurisdiction to 18 in Connecticut.
"Connecticut is a leader in so many areas," said Walker. "We should not be among the last three states holding on to a failed policy. It is unacceptable that we treat children in a way that a human rights organization and health care providers from across the state feel compelled to oppose. We can and must do better."
Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) is a New York-based advocacy organization that uses science and medicine to prevent mass atrocities and severe human rights violations. Learn more here.