Righting Wrongful Convictions of Youth: What You Can Do

By Terry Keleher Oct 14, 2009

Each year in the US, millions of young people interact with juvenile and criminal courts where they often face unfair treatment and racial discrimination. Last week, Northwestern University Law School launched the Center on Wrongful Convictions of Youth. The new center will help enforce the human rights of children by reforming youth interrogation practices by police and assisting in youth cases where justice was denied. Currently there are more than 600,000 young people incarcerated in detention or correctional facilities and 90% of youth crimes are non-violent offenses. In today’s Daily Kos, Bernardine Dohrn, Director of Northwestern’s Children and Family Justice Center, has a post called, “What Progressives Can Do about Youth Injustice” in which she writes:

In many ways, we are still suffering from the myth of the juvenile super-predator that was invented and promoted in the mid 90s by some prominent academics, politicians, prosecutors, police, and then adopted wholesale and hawked relentlessly by the media. That myth was totally false. It was false because the characterization of youngsters and their families was dehumanizing and racist, but also because the demographics were 100% wrong. Crime fell in the 90s; violent youth crime plummeted; all youth crime declined.

Young people are often held in isolation, denied access to a lawyer or parent, lied to about evidence, subjected to harsh interrogation practices and intimidated into confessions for crimes they did not commit. The innocence movement has exposed fraudulent police practices and false confessions, leading to many of the cases being exonerated. Dohrn suggests that progressives can: 1) Critique and challenge media coverage of youth, crime and violence 2) Visit a youth detention or correctional facility near you and inquire about the conditions and services 3) Visit the Center’s website to learn about the stories of wrongful convictions of innocent young people and find out ways you can help change unjust practices.