Opinion: Children in distress aren’t criminals. Stop handcuffing them.

Opinion by Laura S. Abrams and Elizabeth S. Barnert: For Complete Post, Click Here…

Police officers responding to a “family trouble” call in Rochester, N.Y., last month handcuffed, pepper-sprayed and violently subdued a 9-year-old Black girl — actions caught on video that went viral. As the officers shoved the girl into a squad car, one yelled, “You are acting like a child!” The girl replied, “I am a child!”

The episode inspired protests and drew condemnation from Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo (D), the mayor of Rochester and others. It also highlightedthe problem of criminalizing childhood misbehavior or mental health problems. (The girl’s mother said she’d told an officer her daughter was having a mental health breakdown.)

As longtime researchers of juvenile justice (one of us is a social worker; the other a pediatrician), we know that the juvenile justice system is not the place to address the behavioral or health needs of young children. Yet in the United States, more than 100 years after the founding of the first juvenile courts, 28 states still have no minimum age for juvenile court jurisdiction. And 47 states have the power to forcibly arrest elementary-school-age children (those under 12) and do so regularly.

This runs contrary to the 2019 recommendations updating the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child, which asks countries to honor children’s rights in part by setting a minimum age — of at least 14 — at which they can enter a juvenile or criminal legal system. The United States is the only U.N. member that has not ratified this convention. (Some U.N. member countries, including Finland and Denmark, have set this age threshold even higher.)

The infractions that lead to arrests of children are often minor, such as school-related discipline or curfew violations. But with no minimum age for juvenile court jurisdiction, a child of any age can be arrested and even incarcerated. It’s hard to imagine a 10-year-old sleeping in the harsh environment of a juvenile hall, but it happens. For the 22 states that have minimum-age laws, 18 of these boundaries are set at 10 or younger, which fails to protect the most vulnerable young children. Only three states — California, Utah and Massachusetts — have a minimum age of 12; Nebraska’s is 11. In New York, where the girl was handcuffed and pepper-sprayed, the minimum age is 7.

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