Restorative Justice for Child Delinquents

Julia Davis | The New York Times

To the Editor: Re “Hate Crime Inquiry Opens After Assault on School Bus” (news article, Sept. 26):

The response to the racial harassment and fight among young children on a school bus in Gouverneur, N.Y., is a wake-up call for New Yorkers. Arresting two girls, 10 and 11, as well as the adult school aide, won’t get to the root cause of hate and violence.

Instead, what we urgently need is a restorative process. “Restorative justice” can get a bad rap for letting people off the hook for harmful behavior. In fact, it does just the opposite, forcing individuals to accept responsibility for their actions and repair what has been broken.

In New York, children as young as 7 can be arrested, interrogated and prosecuted as juvenile delinquents. Around the country, many school districts are turning away from failed policies that rely on law enforcement and embracing restorative practices with positive results.

Here in New York, we must set the lower age of delinquency prosecution at 12 and enact comprehensive school reform that promotes emotional well-being and safety for all young people.

Julia L. Davis
The writer is director of youth justice and child welfare at the Children’s Defense Fund of New York.

This letter to the editor originally ran in the New York Times’s Letters Section.

The Raise the Age NY Coalition includes organizations from across New York, including formerly-incarcerated youth and their families, child advocates, service providers, faith leaders, legal services groups, and unions. Together, we helped pass the Raise the Age law to end the practice of automatically charging all 16- and 17-year-olds as adults. Today, we stand with allies from across the state who are moving youth justice forward.