Justice with Young Persons
"Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs" (Mark 10:14, NRSV).
Our Lord particularly identified with children and illustrated the loving care which they need to grow and mature.
The Social Principles of The United Methodist Church calls for special attention to the rights of children and youth. From these perspectives we are concerned that in many states, children are arrested and incarcerated for truancy, incorrigibility, stubborn altercations with parents, and other conduct which would not be criminal if performed by an adult. Such status offenses should not be considered as grounds for involving a young person in processes of criminal or delinquency procedures. Rather, a child in trouble should be helped by caring communities, such as churches, mentoring programs, and boys/girls clubs.
There is considerable evidence that the punitive methods of dealing with children play a major part in developing criminal tendencies. Most adults who repeat violent crimes began their conflict with law and order as children ten to fourteen years old. If treatment by the state or local agencies leads the child to think of him or herself as a tough young criminal, he or she is likely to act out that role.
The United Methodist Church urges that all status offenses be eliminated from the juvenile codes and from the processes for determining juvenile delinquency. We urge further that all offenses by children and youth be handled with extreme reluctance to incarcerate the offender. We especially oppose solitary confinement of children and youths in official detention. Institutions where young persons classified as delinquent often are segregated from the general population often become schools of crime. As an alternative, we encourage greater use of supportive and restorative services for parents and children in their home settings; foster child care; neighborhood group homes, Parents Anonymous, and other alternatives.
There are communities within the states in which children are routinely locked up in jails because of a lack of temporary shelter, care or an unwillingness to use home detention. We urge the prohibition of placing dependent and neglected children in jails or facilities for juvenile delinquents.
For many children, the quality of life continually declines due to poverty, gangs, school violence, emotional, sexual and physical abuse, and other social ills that have yet to be recognized. The United Methodist Church must take a stand against juvenile delinquency and work to prevent it.
The church can witness to children in a restorative and prophetic way. The church must continue to address the social issues that children and adolescents face and become a safe haven where the children can come. By addressing the issues that children face, we help bring God's children back to their Creator.
Therefore, be it resolved, that General Conference of The United Methodist Church takes a stand against harsh and punitive measures applied to youth and children for nonviolent status offenses. Such punitive policies serve to criminalize many youth-especially in poor communities and communities of color.
Be it further resolved, that The United Methodist Church works to strengthen youth empowerment programs that provide positive avenues for youth participation in their communities.
Be it further resolved, that The United Methodist Church, through the appropriate churches, annual conferences, agencies, or coalitions work to prevent juvenile delinquency and treat offenders by:
- updating the Urban and Rural Life Youth Mentoring Guide;
- continuing to develop and distribute peer mentoring guides to local churches;
- continuing to develop and distribute up-to-date information on social problems facing children and youth today and strategies on how local churches can help prevent both self-destructive and anti-social behavior as well as to end punitive policies that serve to criminalize children and youth;
- encouraging local churches to create ministry partnerships with local juvenile justice officials and agencies;
- forming alliances with other international, national, state, and local civic and religious groups that work on juvenile justice issues; and
- encouraging conference council on youth ministries or other similar boards to create ministry teams and/or programs for their peers.
revised and readopted 2008
Resolution #254, 2004 Book of Resolutions
Resolution #237, 2000 Book of Resolutions
See Social Principles, ¶ 164H.
From The Book of Resolutions of The United Methodist Church - 2008. Copyright © 2008 by The United Methodist Publishing House. Used by permission.