A first-of-its-kind report scoring the human rights practices in state juvenile justice found one true standout, and a sea of systems in need of improvement.
According to a new report by Human Rights for Kids, a nonprofit based in the District of Columbia, California’s laws put the nation’s most populous state all by itself in Tier 1, meaning it “has created an impressive legal framework to protect the human rights of children in its justice system and has taken its obligation to defend human rights seriously.”
But “the overwhelming majority of the nation – 42 states – have made minimal to no efforts to create a legal framework to protect the human rights of children in the justice system,” the report found.
America’s other high-population states found themselves toward the bottom of the rankings. Florida, the third-largest state by population, lands in the lowest of four tiers, meaning it “has made little to no effort to protect the human rights of children in the justice system and is likely in violation of international human rights standards.” On a 10-point scale, Florida pulled a 3, putting it on the threshold of Tier 3, with 14 other states earning less than 3 points.
Lest one wrongly assume from this that blue states all earned high marks and red states all lagged well behind, consider that Democratic Illinois and New York, two more big states, barely scored above Florida, with 3.5 points. And purplish but tough-on-crime Texas, also among the five most populous states, weighed in with 4 points.
The worst offenders of children’s human rights all manage to rack up just 2 points: Alabama, Georgia, Maryland, Mississippi, Tennessee and Wyoming.
But red-as-pomegranate North Dakota ranked second-best in the country with 8 points. Six other states also occupied Tier 2, meaning they have several protective laws in place but should “take additional steps to improve and implement” their legal frameworks.
Tier 3 is the largest and includes 27 states that, according to the report, have “made minimal efforts” to protect justice-involved kids’ human rights and should take “immediate action” to do better.
To come up with the rankings, the researchers took a look at 12 categories of law that are “vital to establishing a basic legal framework to protect the human rights of system-involved youth.”
These broadly cover how youth enter the juvenile and criminal justice systems; how and whether children are treated as adults; the conditions children endure while locked up; and how the state manages the release and social reintegration of young offenders.
Human Rights for Kids stated that the study is the first to look in some depth at how well states protect children’s human rights based on international standards such as those found in the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.