As the nation prepares to celebrate its centennial, it is time to rethink the role of the young in our criminal justice system.
This is a key question for the Justice Department and the rest of the federal government.
In his new book, The New Face of Justice: The Role of the Young in the Criminal Justice System, Harvard law professor Paul G. Heintz explores the new narrative of the nation’s young people.
It’s an argument that he believes could have major implications for criminal justice reform.
He is one of several scholars who have argued that the role the young play in American society has become too often invisible, especially in a country with so many disparities in wealth and education.
He says the justice system is not only broken, but also unfair.
“It’s the most unequal system on the planet,” he says.
“And when you look at that disparity, you’re saying, ‘What are the barriers to justice that young people face?'”
The book focuses on the justice systems of five of the country’s 50 states: California, Illinois, New York, New Jersey, and Rhode Island.
The book is part of a larger effort by Heintzel and other scholars to shift the narrative of youth justice and its implications for American criminal justice.
Heinz says young people in the U.S. today face a system that is broken, with too many people behind bars, too many prisoners and even too many convictions.
The story of the “Black Lives Matter” movement in the 1970s, which challenged racial injustice, is a perfect example of how the black community could feel the consequences of its efforts, he says, adding that it is the only time in U.s. history that a movement has taken hold in a major city.
The idea that young Black people could make a difference in the criminal justice process is a “fantastic opportunity to make a real difference in this country,” Heintzes says.
And, he notes, that has been true since the movement began in the 1960s.
“I don’t think that there is a group of young people that haven’t had a real impact on the criminal system,” he explains.
He and other experts in the field say young people have a powerful role to play in addressing the nations problems.
“We need young people to do a lot more,” Heintsz says.
But Heintzers book isn’t just a look at how to reform the criminal court system, it also looks at the issues that young activists have with the justice process itself.
The case he cites is of a man who was convicted of murder for stabbing his girlfriend to death, and was sentenced to death in the prison where she was held.
The inmate, who was also convicted of second-degree murder, was released from prison in 2018 and is now free on bail.
In an interview with NPR’s All Things Considered, Heintzer said the prison system in California “has a very different way of thinking about what it means to be a victim” than what he would have considered to be in the system of a state.
He adds that, despite the efforts of young activists, the system in this state is still rife with injustice.
“That system is still a prison system that incarcerates young people for nonviolent crimes and it is a prison that incarcerated me for murder,” he tells All Things.
“So it is not a fair system.
And that is why the justice department is in such a hurry to try and change it.”
Heinttz says young activists must take a stand in this fight, and it’s time for young people and activists alike to look at the systems in place and see what’s at stake.
“This is the real challenge that young organizers face,” he notes.
“There are so many of us out there that are really committed to changing the system.
We need young leaders who are looking out for our interests.”
Heinzes book, published by Harvard University Press, comes at a time when the national conversation around youth justice has grown, with both the White House and the Justice and Education Departments calling for a new narrative.
“The young people of the future, the leaders of tomorrow, will be the ones who will transform our country,” the president of the United States, Joe Biden, said in his inauguration address.
The Justice Department recently announced a plan to develop an “emerging justice narrative” that will address the racial disparities in the justice justice system, including how young people can play a part in improving the system and creating opportunities for minorities and women.
Heintsels book, and others like it, will help inform that conversation, but the authors say they believe there is more work to be done.
“At the end of the day, it’s about creating a more just and fair system,” Heinds says.