States Take Steps to Reduce the Prosecution of Youth in the Adult Criminal Justice System

A new national survey released by Gerstein, Bocian, Agne Strategies reveals that the majority of Americans support youth justice system reform. The study, which surveyed 1,000 adults from across the nation, shows that the public would support juvenile justice reform efforts that focus on rigorous rehabilitation over incarceration and against placing youth in adult jails and prisons.

Highlights of the survey include:

  • The public strongly favors rehabilitation and treatment approaches, such as counseling, education, treatment, restitution, and community service (89%);
  • The public rejects placement of youth in adult jails and prisons (69%);
  • Americans strongly favor involving the youth’s families in treatment (86%), keeping youth close to home (77%), and ensuring that youth are connected with their families (86%);
  • The public strongly favors individualized determinations on a case-by-case basis by juvenile court judges in the juvenile justice system over automatic prosecution in adult criminal court (76%);
  • Americans support requiring the juvenile justice system to reduce racial and ethnic disparities (66%);

These results are consistent with U.S. Department of Justice and the Federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention studies that have concluded that juvenile transfer laws, which allow state courts to move youth to the adult system for trying and sentencing, are ineffective at deterring crime and reducing recidivism.

In the past five years, state policymakers in nearly twenty states across the nation have started to take action to remove youth from the adult criminal justice system and from adult jails and prisons. These states’ legislative reforms have limited the ability to house youth in adult jails and prisons; expanded juvenile court jurisdiction so that older youth who previously would be automatically tried as adults are not prosecuted in adult criminal court; narrowed transfer provisions making it more likely that youth will stay in the juvenile justice system; and changed mandatory minimum sentencing laws to take into account the developmental differences between youth and adults.

Among the states enacting such laws is Arizona, which in 2010 made it easier for youth who were tried as adults to get reverse waiver hearings to allow them to return to the juvenile court. In 2007, Connecticut legislators approved a bill raising the age of juvenile court jurisdiction from 16 to 18. In Mississippi, a law enacted in 2010 by state legislators called for the removal of 17-year-olds charged with felonies including arson, drug offenses, robbery, and child abuse, from adult criminal court. Most recently, the 2012 passage of Colorado House Bill 1271 shifts discretion from district attorneys to judges to decide whether a youth is tried as an adult from district attorneys to judges.

For more information, visit the Campaign for Youth Justice www.campaignforyouthjustice.org and check out the Campaign for Youth Justice’s “State Trends” Report .