As a child in the United States, justice often depends on where you live, the color of your skin, which police officer arrests you, or which judge, prosecutor or probation officer happens to be involved in your case.
Juvenile courts across the country processed nearly 750,000 cases in 2018. About 200,000 of these cases involved detention – removing a young person from home and locking them away, according to data from the federal Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention.
Depending on where a young person lives, a crime like simple assault or gun possession could lead to a customized rehabilitation program with help from mentors. It also could mean confinement in a group home, where kids wear their own clothes and counselors call them by their first names. Or it could mean time in a barbed wire-rimmed “prison for kids,” part of a system rife with rioting, suicide and sexual assault.
“We call it justice by geography,” said Elizabeth Cauffman, a developmental psychologist at University of California, Irvine. “Where you live determines how you’re treated as a juvenile.”