The recent arrests of two 6-year-old students in Orlando, which prompted outrage and the firing of the officer who restrained one child’s hands with flex cuffs, mirrors a persistent problem confronting law enforcement and schools with thousands of children arrested annually and treated like “mini-adults,” experts said.
Stunning annual crime statistics compiled by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) show that between 2013 and 2017 (the most recent year for which complete data is available), at least 26,966 children under the age of 10 were arrested in the United States. And the numbers skyrocket for children between the ages of 10 to 12 with 228,017 arrested during the same five-year time span, according to the data.
Rules about the age children can be arrested vary around the world. In England and Wales, for instance, the age of criminal responsibility is 10, with alternative arrangements for those under 10. In Scotland, it is 8.
In the United States, 34 states have no minimum age for delinquency (according to the most recent data), while most of the rest have set the age at 10, according to government data. The federal system prefers to defer to the state delinquency system for minors, according to the Congressional Research Service, although the federal tradition, is reported to be seven.
And 24 states have no minimum age to transfer juvenile cases to adult criminal court according to the Department of Justice’s Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention.
While the rate of arrests of juveniles 10 to 17 has been on a steady decline in the U.S. since hitting a peak in the mid-1990s and the arrests of those 12 and under represents a mere fraction of the total made annually in the U.S. (more than 8.2 million in 2017 alone), experts say it is still too many.
“This is ridiculous. If we are going to treat children like this, we better think very clearly what the ramifications are, especially if we are so inclined to stop the violence,” said Lisa Thurau, founder and executive director of Strategies for Youth, a Cambridge, Massachusetts, nonprofit that trains law enforcement agencies in how to handle young children. “This is producing it and it’s also attenuating children’s connection to school.”
An area of particular concern with juvenile arrests are those in school — especially how discipline affects those of different races and how officers are trained to deal with children.