Advocates seek change in state laws allowing arrests of 6 year olds

by Erika DuBose
Advocates seek change in state laws allowing arrests of 6 year olds
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When 6-year-old Kaia Rolle was arrested for throwing a tantrum at school, criminal justice advocates stepped in. The little girl from Florida, who still deals with post-traumatic stress disorder from the ordeal, is part of a larger movement to maintain a much older minimum age for arrests.

In Florida, where young Kaia lives, that age is seven. However, most experts believe that no child under the age of 14 should face criminal charges for their behavior.

This topic is particularly salient in Black communities, where Black children are often targeted by law enforcement. As of 2019, the last year for which data is available, Black youth are committed to criminal justice facilities at a rate over four times higher than White youth.

In fact, young Black children are incarcerated at record numbers. In 2015, Black youth were jailed at a rate of over five times higher than their White counterparts. 

Young Kaia Rolle is part of those statistics. Meanwhile, her grandmother, Meralyn Kirkland, stated in an interview with NPR, “It’s a tantrum. There should not be any law on the book that allows a child to be arrested for being a child.”

Experts agree with Ms. Kirkland – although at least 25 states have no minimum age for arresting children. This means a child of any age can be arrested and face criminal consequences for their behavior.

Advocates want laws changed

North Carolina Democratic State Rep. Marcia Morey, who was a juvenile judge for nearly 20 years, believes in overhauling the youth criminal justice system. According to Ms. Morey, children under age 9, “are too young to have any concept of what’s going on in a courtroom. Plus, the fact to label them delinquent has a profound effect on their psyche — on who they are.”  

Phillip Roybal, a youth justice advocate at the Denver nonprofit, Colorado Circles for Change, notes that being arrested has long-term consequences on innocent youth. In fact, being arrested once often leads to long-term experiences in the criminal justice system, through adulthood.

Across the world, the typical age for a youth facing a criminal arrest is 14. And that’s what experts in the United States are trying to promote, although the task is daunting. 

Meanwhile, young Kai Rolle is just one example of a Black youth traumatized by the criminal injustice system. Her grandmother, Ms. Kirkland, noted that she is still in therapy for PTSD, and suffers from separation anxiety. 

To learn more about how you can address the youth criminal justice system, visit thesentencingproject.org 

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