Amnesty International urges the federal, state and local governments to ensure that the legislation, policies and practices for which they are responsible are in complete accordance with the rights of children that are set out in international human rights treaties and other instruments. In particular, Amnesty International recommends that relevant governmental, law enforcement and justice authorities act promptly to achieve the following outcomes:
1. Comprehensive adoption of international commitments on the rights of children, including:
- withdrawal of the US reservations to the ICCPR and;
- ratification without reservations of the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
2.Incarceration should be used only as a last resort. State and local authorities should review their legislation, policies and practices to ensure that children who are accused or convicted of violating the law are not deprived of their liberty except as a last resort. In particular, all authorities should:
- undertake periodic reviews to assess whether children are being placed in custody only when no alternative is appropriate; if the reviews find cases where alternatives were appropriate, authorities should take action to change the policies or practices that cause the excessive use of incarceration;
- provide an adequate range and number of community-based detention and correctional programs;
- provide adequate mental health services in the community so that children whose violation of the law is a reflection of significant mental health problems can be treated in therapeutic rather than correctional environments.
Juvenile justice systems should as a matter of course assess children to determine whether they should receive specialized care and should not be placed in a detention or correctional facility.
3. The US federal government should require state and local governments to establish comprehensive standards for juvenile detention and correctional facilities that are consistent with international standards and monitor the implementation of this requirement. The US government should inform the Committee Against Torture about measures to prevent torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, including solitary confinement, against children in the report it is due to submit on its implementation of the Convention Against Torture.
State and local governments should end the cruel use of force and restraints by:
- providing adequate resources to prevent overcrowding and allowing facilities to employ sufficient staff;
- requiring staff to be specially trained to work with children, particularly those with mental health problems. The training must include skills that reduce the necessity for the use of force;
- prohibiting the use of electro-shock weapons in juvenile detention and correctional facilities;
- strengthening inspection systems (see recommendation 13).
US federal authorities should conduct inquiries into the use of chemical restraints and restraint chairs in juvenile detention and correctional facilities.
4.State and local governments should prohibit the use of solitary confinement as a punishment for children in confinement.
5.State and local governments should provide adequate services for children with mental health problems. They should:
- require juvenile and detention and correctional facilities to provide comprehensive physical and mental health care services by qualified personnel;
- provide adequate funds to enable facilities to provide the required services;
- impose specific standards to allow effective monitoring of the adequacy and quality of services and;
- routinely monitor performance.
6.State and local governments should legislate to keep children in custody completely separate from adult inmates unless it is considered in the childís best interest not to do so.
The US Congress should legislate to require states to segregate detained and imprisoned children from adult inmates.
7.Federal and state governments should legislate to ensure that children are not mandatorily prosecuted and punished as adults. In particular:
- children should not be subjected to harsh, fixed periods of incarceration, notably life imprisonment without possibility of release.
- courts should be required to consider the well-being and circumstances of individual children when imposing sentences.
8.Federal and state governments should fix a minimum age of criminal responsibility that takes account of childrenís emotional, mental and intellectual maturity.
9.All authorities should require detention and correctional authorities for which they are responsible to ensure that children in custody have access to appropriate educational programs, and are provided with adequate time, space and facilities for exercise and recreation.
10.US federal authorities should withdraw the reservation to Article 6 (5) of the ICCPR and take all necessary steps to ensure that state authorities comply with the international standards prohibiting the imposition of the death penalty on people for crimes they committed when they were children.
Authorities in the 24 states which currently allow for the use of the death penalty for people who were under 18 at the time of the crime should establish an immediate moratorium on their execution pending the adoption of legislation imposing a minimum age of 18 at the time of the crime in capital trials.
11.State and local authorities should require juvenile detention and correctional facilities for which they are responsible to ensure that males and females receive equitable and appropriate treatment, and should monitor the compliance of facilities with this requirement.
12.The US Congress should continue to require states to monitor and take measures to reduce disproportionate confinement of children.
13.Authorities responsible for detention and correctional systems should establish independent systems to monitor compliance and investigate complaints. These systems should have adequate resources and authority to undertake their functions effectively, and their performance should be periodically reviewed.