The United States makes up 5% of the world’s population, but nearly 20% of the world’s prison population. We have the highest rate of incarceration in the world, with over 2 million people in prison and jail.
Our system is the result of the dozens of choices we’ve made — choices that together stack the deck against the poor and the disadvantaged. Simply put, we have criminalized too many things. We send too many people to jail. We keep them there for too long. We do little to rehabilitate them. We spend billions, propping up an entire industry that profits from mass incarceration. And we do all of this despite little evidence that our harshly punitive system makes our communities safer — and knowing that a majority of people currently in prison will eventually return to our communities and our neighborhoods.
Preventing a mother from visiting her sons in prison because she cannot afford to pay parking tickets is wealth-based discrimination. Forcing someone to leave town because their mobile home is not worth enough is wealth-based discrimination. Keeping someone in jail prior to trial simply because they cannot afford bail — while those who can afford bail go free — is wealth-based discrimination. In all of these examples (and many more), people are penalized just for a lack of financial means.
While every state (and territory) sets a maximum age of juvenile court jurisdiction (in most states it is 18), in about two thirds of the states (and territories), there is no statute that specifies a minimum age under which a child cannot be adjudicated delinquent.
In those states without a statutory minimum, there is nothing legally preventing the state from prosecuting even the youngest of children. This runs contrary to all of the scientific research and emerging case law that recognizes children are inherently less culpable than adults and that the younger a person, the less competent he or she may be.