• We oppose the death penalty in all cases as inherently cruel. We also work to change criminal sentences that are disproportionately severe relative to the crime and the culpability of the individual offender, including the sentencing of juvenile offenders to life without the possibility of parole and long sentences set by mandatory sentencing laws for low level drug offenses. These sentences violate human rights laws binding on the United States that prohibit cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, and require that juvenile offenders be treated in accordance with their age and capacity for rehabilitation. We also oppose the imposition of arbitrary and disproportionate restrictions in lieu of, or in addition to, criminal punishment, such as restrictions on access to public housing, the right to vote, or choice of residence.

  • A photograph of Ethan A. (pseudonym) held by his mother, showing her son at age 11, four months before he was arrested for committing a sex offense and placed on the sex offender registry in Texas.
    Harsh public registration laws often punish youth sex offenders for life and do little to protect public safety, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today. A web of federal and state laws apply to people under 18 who have committed any of a wide range of sex offenses, from the very serious, like rape, to the relatively innocuous, such as public nudity.


Excessive Punishment and Restrictions

  • Apr 8, 2015
    A Florida Senate subcommittee voted on April 8, 2015 to approve a bill that would allow judges rather than prosecutors to determine when a child should be charged as an adult. Senate Bill (SB) 1082, which would greatly reduce the number of youth under 18 sent into the adult criminal justice system, deserves a vote before Florida’s full Senate and House.
  • Apr 2, 2015
    When I first visited the Baltimore City Detention Center in 1999, I found an archaic, decaying facility that held people in grim cells with no direct natural light. The detention center held many children who were charged as adults, and they suffered some of the worst abuses — including extended periods of confinement in cells punctuated by brutal acts of violence, often encouraged by guards.
  • Mar 23, 2015
  • Mar 17, 2015
  • Mar 17, 2015
    “They’ll stop them just for being black,” a 39-year-old African American woman named Holly told me last August, describing how police in and around her home town of Ferguson, Missouri, treated young black men. “I’ve actually stood there and watched cousins of mine get pulled over. [The police] would sit them down, pat them down, even after they knew they had the wrong person. I have so many of those stories.”
  • Mar 12, 2015
  • Feb 19, 2015
    Florida legislators should approve Senate Bill 1082, which would allow judges rather than prosecutors to decide when to prosecute a child as an adult. If enacted, the proposed law would greatly reduce the number of children prosecuted in Florida’s adult courts.
  • Feb 11, 2015
    On February 11th, 2015, Human Rights Watch sent this letter to Senators Chuck Grassley and Patrick Leahy, chairman and ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, respectively, to press for improvements to the CORRECTIONS Act that would reduce excessively long periods of incarceration for federal prisoners.
  • Dec 18, 2014
  • Dec 18, 2014
    "We tortured some folks,” President Barack Obama said in 2014. Indeed. And now, from the December 9 Senate Intelligence Committee report, we know more about how it was done.