The United States has an overreliance on incarceration. Our nation imprisons more of its people than that of any other nation. And the youth justice system is not immune.
Removing youth from their families and locking them up has negative outcomes for them, their families, and their communities. Such a punishment should only be used as a last resort for a few young people who present a risk to public safety. Alternatives to incarceration have proven much more effective, but some states, like Alabama and Tennessee, still rely on outdated approaches.
ALABAMA AND TENNESSEE
In Tennessee, youths face longer sentences than they did five years ago, even though the types of crime and misdemeanors committed have remained the same. Across the state, young people receive drastically different sentences for the same behavior based on a lack of resources available. Wealthier counties can have a variety diversion and incarceration alternatives. Meanwhile, rural counties can lack the resources to hold young people accountable in appropriate ways.
Thus, instead of finding punishments to fit the crime, youths often receive punishments based on their location.
We know from Scripture that God cares about justice, and that His followers need to also. What can we do to make sure that states like Alabama and Tennessee do a better job of holding youth accountable while respecting their dignity and potential?
THE GOOD NEWS
There is also hope in Alabama and Tennessee. This year both states formed task forces on youth justice. These task forces have the support of the governing bodies of their states, their law enforcement, and other key stakeholders. They are developing recommendations for legislation in the 2018 session that will hopefully see restorative youth justice reform in these states.
SPEAK OUT FOR REFORM
Prison Fellowship® advocates for a restorative, biblically-based response to crime that recognizes the value and potential of every human life as created by God. Connect with Prison Fellowship as we promote reforms that transform those responsible for crime, validate victims, and engage communities.
If you want to be a voice for values-based reform in Alabama, Tennessee, and across our nation, become a Justice Advocate!