Human Rights for Kids 2022 National State Ratings Report

By Human Rights for Kids | December 22, 2022

Stoneleigh Fellow Sara Kruzan spoke on the latest release of HRFK’s National State Ratings Report, which examines how each state in the U.S. treats kids in the justice system.

Human Rights for Kids Releases 2022 National State Ratings Report

Maryland highlighted as “most improved state” since 2020 report

WASHINGTON, D.C.  – Human Rights for Kids, a non-profit dedicated to the promotion and protection of human rights for children in the U.S. criminal justice system, released its 2022 National State Ratings Report during a public webinar today. The report rates every state on 12 categories of law to assess how well or how poorly each state protects children’s human rights. The report provides a comprehensive look at how the United States treats children in the justice system based on universally accepted human rights standards from the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

James Dold, CEO & Founder of Human Rights for Kids, said about the 2022 report: “We believe that over the next decade, individual states and the federal government can live up to our promise and potential as a beacon of human rights around the world by passing reforms in line with this report to ensure that all children, regardless of what they’ve done, are treated in an age-appropriate and trauma-informed way which centers universally accepted human rights norms. Republican and Democratic legislators, at both the state and federal-level, continue to demonstrate that these reforms are possible and that we can get there by working together for our most vulnerable and traumatized children.”

The event began with two speakers who grounded the participants in the work and reminded them of the importance of using a trauma-informed lens to these issues. Sara Kruzan, a Stoneleigh Fellow at Human Rights for Kids, revealed that in her outreach to women across the country who are currently incarcerated for crimes they committed as children, she has found “a tremendous number of women in the justice system that have experienced eight or more Adverse Childhood Experiences” Michael Mendoza, Director of Advocacy at the Anti-Recidivism Coalition, also highlighted his own experience in being a child in the adult system. Mendoza said “HRFK’s new state ratings report will show how our states have strayed from protecting the rights of children. It is a message that the United States needs to ratify the Convention on the Rights of the Child to ensure that our country treats children like children.”

During today’s event, the State of Maryland received special recognition. In HRFK’s 2020 report, Maryland was listed as one of the worst states for the human rights of children. Following the publication of the 2020 report, Maryland’s General Assembly passed several new laws which propelled the state to being ranked as one of the best states in the nation.

State Delegate Jazz Lewis, a champion of the reforms in Maryland, said “This issue of not giving kids a chance, or a fair shot, is a nationwide problem, but Maryland was a particularly noteworthy offender. Human Rights for Kids’ last report rightly highlighted the issues in Maryland, but it also galvanized us to find the right way forward.”

Senator Jill Carter of Maryland’s 41st District, another legislative champion for children in the justice system, said “The investigatory, legal, and monitoring advocacy by Human Rights for Kids has shed light on some of the most dismal situations facing our state’s most vulnerable population. Their shocking 2020 report lit the fire behind our campaign to protect child dignity and was the motivator behind the Maryland General Assembly finally acknowledging the horrendous abuses within the juvenile justice system. While I am proud of the work that we have accomplished, there is much to be done, and I am confident that HRFK’s expertise will continue to be a crucial asset in this movement.”

Maryland’s progress was due in large part to the strong community of advocates in the state who formed the Maryland Youth Justice Coalition (MYJC) to improve Maryland’s treatment of children in the criminal legal system. Rev. Marlon Tilghman, a member of MYJC, stated “HRFK’s report opened the faith community’s eyes to what was going on in the justice system. We’re excited about how far we’ve come, but we still have so much left to do.” Rev. Tilghman noted in his remarks today that MYJC will be prioritizing another important reform in the 2023 legislative session, the Youth Equity and Safety Act, to end the automatic charging of children as adults.

Emily Virgin, HRFK’s Director of Advocacy and Government Relations, said that “While important progress has undoubtedly been made since HRFK’s 2020 National State Ratings Report, with Maryland working its way off our worst offenders list, this year’s report shows there is still a great deal of work to be done. Unfortunately, 40 states are ranked in the bottom two tiers of our rankings, meaning they’ve made little to no effort to protect the rights of kids in the criminal legal system. We know that progress is achievable: Maryland is a shining example, but it should also be noted that since our last report, 8 states passed laws earning them additional credit: Maryland, Ohio, Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, Louisiana, Utah, and Washington. We are thankful for the policymakers in these states for their commitment to remedying child rights abuses, and we look forward to the crucial work ahead.”

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