States See Clear Benefits to Keeping Youth Out of the Adult Criminal Justice System

Posted March 29, 2017
By the Annie E. Casey Foundation
Blog statesseeclearbenefits 2017

Richard Ross for Juvenile in Justice

With­in the last decade, sev­en states have passed laws to raise the age on juve­nile jus­tice juris­dic­tion. This move means that 16- and 17-year-olds who were pre­vi­ous­ly des­tined for adult crim­i­nal court are now being served by the juve­nile jus­tice system.

The pay­off for mak­ing this switch is clear, accord­ing to a report from the Jus­tice Pol­i­cy Insti­tute, which receives fund­ing from the Annie E. Casey Foun­da­tion. Rais­ing the age has improved both pub­lic safe­ty and youth devel­op­ment out­comes with­out sig­nif­i­cant­ly increas­ing tax­pay­er costs. Equal­ly impor­tant: It has near­ly halved the num­ber of youth in our nation’s adult system.

The report, Rais­ing the Age, explores exact­ly how states imple­ment­ed this change— and kept more youth at home or in their home com­mu­ni­ties — with­out over­whelm­ing their local juve­nile jus­tice sys­tems. It sin­gles out three states — Con­necti­cut, Mass­a­chu­setts and Illi­nois — that led the nation in rais­ing the age of crim­i­nal respon­si­bil­i­ty to 18. These states were able to con­tain costs, reduce con­fine­ment, close youth cor­rec­tions facil­i­ties, and real­lo­cate funds to sup­port com­mu­ni­ty-based ser­vices with­out expe­ri­enc­ing a con­cur­rent increase in juve­nile arrests, accord­ing to researchers.

Read the report

The alter­na­tive path­way, which cours­es through the adult crim­i­nal jus­tice sys­tem, expos­es young peo­ple to deep and psy­cho­log­i­cal harms while fail­ing to meet their devel­op­men­tal needs, accord­ing to a grow­ing body of research. At present, only a hand­ful of states still sup­port the auto­mat­ic pros­e­cu­tion of 16- and 17-year-olds as adults. But, as the expe­ri­ences doc­u­ment­ed in Rais­ing the Age indi­cate, these states have noth­ing to lose — and much to gain — by fol­low­ing the nation­al trend of hold­ing youth account­able in the juve­nile jus­tice system.

Learn how juve­nile jus­tice sys­tems are engag­ing youth and families

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