Once they enter the justice system of the USA, many children2 experience violations of their fundamental human rights.

Children in custody have been subjected to brutal physical force and cruel punishments, including placing them in isolation for lengthy periods. Many children are incarcerated when other action could or should have been taken. Children are often held in facilities that are seriously overcrowded and cannot provide adequate educational, mental health and other important services.

A growing number of children are being tried as adults in the general criminal justice system and are subject to the same punishments as adults. Children are also held for months in jails before they are tried. There, they may be denied access to education and adequate opportunity to exercise. Thousands of convicted children are sent to prisons where they are not separated from adult prisoners, putting them at serious risk of physical and sexual abuse.

People have been executed for crimes that they committed when they were children, in clear violation of international human rights law. As at June 1998, there were 70 people on death row for offences committed when they were under 18 years of age.

Some of the violations of the rights of children described in this report breach US laws as well as international standards. The report contains recommendations to the various US authorities responsible for elements of the justice system, to improve the detection and prevention of such violations. These authorities include the federal, state and local governments, and departments that operate and supervise detention and correctional facilities.

Disturbingly, however, a number of the violations are actually sanctioned by US laws. The USA has refused to implement fully the protection of the human rights of children provided by international standards. Amnesty International urges the US federal government to ratify without reservations all international standards for the protection of children and calls upon all US authorities to ensure that their laws, policies and practices are fully consistent with these standards.