Monday, May 16, 2011

Youth in the Adult System

In states across the country children are being charged and sentenced as adults. Some are spending time in adult jails and prisons; some (approximately 2,225) are serving sentences for life without the possibility of parole.

According to the Campaign for Youth Justice:

  • An estimated 200,000 youth are tried, sentenced or incarcerated as adults every year across the United States.
  • Most of the youth prosecuted in adult court are charged with non-violent offenses.
  • Young people who are kept in the juvenile justice system are less likely to re-offend than young people who are transferred into the adult system.
  • Currently, 40 states permit or require that youth charged as adults be held before they are tried in an adult jail. In some states, if they are convicted, they may be required to serve their entire sentence in an adult jail.
  • On any given day, nearly 7,500 young people are locked up in adult jails.
  • On any given day, more than 3,600 young people are locked up in adult prisons.

Earlier this year, the University of Texas at Austin released a report, Juveniles in the Adult Criminal Justice System in Texas. The report provides a comprehensive look at Texas’s methods for dealing with the state’s most serious juvenile offenders. It gathers all available Texas data with respect to juveniles who are transferred to adult criminal court and compares them to the population of juveniles who are retained in the juvenile justice system. The report also compares the significant differences in programming and services for the two populations of juvenile offenders (those who get sent to adult jails and prisons, and those who receive placements in the Texas Youth Commission). The report’s most significant findings about juveniles transferred to the adult system in Texas include:

  • Minimal differences exist between juveniles in the adult criminal justice system and juveniles in the Texas Youth Commission (TYC) except for county of conviction.
  • Certified juveniles (those in the adult system) do not represent the “worst of the worst”—they are neither more violent nor more persistent in their criminal behavior than those retained in juvenile court and sent to TYC.
  • While the large majority of certified juveniles have committed violent offenses, only 17% have committed homicide.
  • About 15% of juveniles transferred to adult court are charged with non-violent felonies, including state jail offenses.
  • 72% of certified juveniles do not have a prior violent criminal history,
  • 29% of certified juveniles are first-time offenders.
  • 89% of certified juveniles have never been committed to TYC, indicating that most certified youth have never had the opportunity to benefit from effective rehabilitative programs in the juvenile justice system, such as TYC’s highly regarded Capital and Serious Violent Offenders Program, which has a 95% success rate.

When making policy that is so critical to both to the experiences and outcomes for young people and the public safety, it is critical that policymakers weigh all of the research available to inform their decisions.

There are ways to create public policy that best serves both public safety and that increases the likelihood that youth offenders are rehabilitated and have the opportunity to become productive adults. A report, State Trends: Legislative Changes from 2005-2010 Removing Youth from the Adult Criminal Justice System, from the Campaign for Youth Justice examines innovative “smart on crime” strategies that states are using to remove and protect youth in the adult criminal justice system.

There is also a growing body of knowledge around what works in juvenile justice and what doesn’t. In an article, Juvenile Justice: Lessons For A New Era, the authors, Soler, Shoenberg and Schindler, address: the evaluation of juvenile rehabili­tation and treatment programs, differences between adolescents and adults, prosecution of youth in adult criminal court, the needs of girls, use of incarcera­tion and improvement of conditions of juvenile confinement, and racial and ethnic disparities in the juvenile justice system. The article includes the authors’ recom­mendations for key changes to juvenile justice policy and practice that should follow from this new body of knowledge.

Visit PolicyforResults for strategies for reducing juvenile detention and visit our homepage to sign-up for e-mail updates on results-based policy regarding strategies for Juvenile Justice - coming soon!