My name is Tracy McClard and I live in Jackson, MO. In 2008, I lost my barely 17 year old son, Jonathan, in Missouri’s criminal justice system.

Testimony before House of Education of Labor Committee on April 21, 2010. In this picture is Chairman George Miller and me.

Background and Context:

Before I begin telling my family’s experience with having our son in the adult criminal justice system, I would like to give you some data to help put our story into context. Each year, an estimated 200,000 youth go into the adult criminal court and every day 10,000 kids under the age of 18 are incarcerated in adult jails and prisons.

These policies exist even though research shows that prosecuting children as adults causes harm to these youth and does not increase public safety. Reports from the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)’s non-federal Task Force on Community Preventive Services, show that prosecuting youth as adults actually increases crime. The CDC report found that youth involved in the adult system are 34% more likely to commit crimes than children who have done similar crimes, but remain in the juvenile justice system. The OJJDP report found that prosecuting youth as adults increases the chances of a youth re-offending and recommended decreasing the number of youth in the adult criminal justice system.

Research also shows that youth in adult jails face unbelievable conditions. First, these youth are at great risk of physical and sexual assault. The National Prison Rape Elimination Commission recently found that “more than any other group of incarcerated persons, youth incarcerated with adults are probably at the highest risk for sexual abuse” and said youth be housed separately from adults. Second, youth in jails typically do not have access to things like education, mental health programs, or substance abuse treatment, especially when compared to kids in juvenile facilities. Finally, and as my family tragically knows too well, youth in adult jails are at a high risk of suicide - youth in adult jails are 36 times more likely to complete suicide in an adult jail than youth juvenile detention facilities.

Recommendations and Conclusion:

Jonathan’s experience taught me that no child should be placed with adults no matter what, because when children are put in with adults they die - physically or mentally. I also believe that all kids deserve a second chance. As a parent, one of the most frustrating things for me was that the court, the judges, and the prosecutors didn’t know my son - they hadn’t raised him like I had; they didn’t even know him as a person - but they weren’t willing to give him the second chance they might have given to their own kids if they were in the same situation. Finally, if the goal of the juvenile and criminal justice system is to keep our communities safe, how safe can our communities be if a kid in Jonathan’s position would have spent five, ten, fifteen or more years in the conditions Jonathan faced and with the role models he had?

In terms of JJDPA reauthorization, I have two main recommendations for the Committee. First, the current JJDPA law has two core requirements - jail removal and sight and sound separation - that recognize the dangers of keeping youth out of adult jails and out of contact with adults in these facilities. However, right now these two requirements only apply to youth who are under the jurisdiction of the juvenile court. Once a youth is charged as an adult, these protections no longer apply and, like Jonathan, kids can be placed in the same cell as adults. I hope the Committee can extend the jail removal and sight and sound protections to all youth under 18, no matter what court they are tried in. The alternative is just too dangerous for our youth and our communities.

Second, I hope that the JJDPA will continue to allow States to have the option to let youth who are convicted in adult court to serve their sentence in juvenile facilities rather than adult prison. It is my understanding that the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) recently stopped penalizing States that were allowing youth to serve their time in juvenile facilities and I would like for the Committee to make sure this decision is permanent.
Thank you again for having me here to testify and for giving me the chance to share my story, my family’s story, and Jonathan’s story with you today.

Testimony Transcript:

My testimony before the House Committee on Education and Labor on April 21st, 2010.