Juvenile Law Center

Juvenile and Criminal Justice

Reducing Transfers to the Adult System

Almost all states provide that juveniles of a certain age and charged with certain offenses may be tried in adult criminal court.1  It is estimated that approximately 250,000 youth each year become involved in the adult criminal justice system,2 although even this number may fail to account for cases in which juveniles are tried in criminal court under laws that automatically exclude them from juvenile courts or give prosecutors the discretion to choose adult court.3 

While most states made it easier in the 1980s and 1990s to prosecute juveniles in adult courts,4 no empirical evidence shows that trying youth as adults is effective in reducing crime.5 In fact, a growing body of research demonstrates that youth tried as adults recidivate at a higher rate than those who are prosecuted in juvenile court,6  and that youth incarcerated in adult correctional institutions reoffend at a higher rate than youth in juvenile facilities.7 As with the juvenile justice system, youth of color are disproportionally represented in the adult criminal justice system.8 

Since 2005, the United States Supreme Court has issued four major opinions reaffirming the principle that youth are developmentally different than adults and that these differences are relevant to their involvement with the justice system.9 In particular, these cases recognize that  adolescents lack maturity and have an underdeveloped sense of responsibility; they are vulnerable to negative influences and outside pressures; their characters are transient and developing; they have limited ability to control their immediate circumstances and environments; and, for all these reasons, they are less culpable than adults.10 The Court’s findings support Juvenile Law Center’s position that youth should rarely if ever be prosecuted in the adult system, where they do not have access to the rehabilitative and treatment services available in the juvenile system.11

Juvenile Law Center advocates to reduce the number of youth tried in the adult system, and to ensure that youth are treated fairly and given due process when they are tried in adult court.  For example, Juvenile Law Center assisted counsel in Pennsylvania (Commonwealth of PA v. Jordan Brown) and Nevada (In the Matter of William M.) in successfully challenging the prosecution of juveniles in adult court when the youth would not waive their rights against self-incrimination in order to meet the state criteria for prosecution in juvenile court. Juvenile Law Center also files amicus briefs in transfer appeals throughout the country, such as in State v. Cameron Moon, in which the Texas Criminal Court of Appeals ruled that the juvenile court must conduct an individualized assessment of a 16 year-old before ordering that the youth be tried as an adult.

Currently, Juvenile Law Center is targeting the absence of judicial review of transfer decisions, particularly in states where youth are subsequently subject to mandatory sentencing.  


1 Charles Puzzanchera, Benjamin Adams & Sarah Hockenberry, Office of Juvenile Justice & Delinquency Prevention, Juvenile Court Statistics 2009, 29 (2012); Benjamin Adams & Sean Addie, Nat’l Ctr for Juvenile Justice & Office of Juvenile Justice & Delinquency Prevention, Delinquency Cases Waived to Criminal Court 2009, 10, 40 (2012); Griffin et al., Office of Juvenile Justice & Delinquency Prevention, Trying Juveniles as Adults: An Analysis of State Transfer Laws and Reporting, 5 (2011).
2 Jason Ziedenberg, Nat’l Inst. for Corr., You’re an Adult Now: Youth in Adult Criminal Justice Systems, 3 (2011).
3 Griffin et al., Office of Juvenile Justice & Delinquency Prevention, Trying Juveniles as Adults: An Analysis of State Transfer Laws and Reporting, 9 (2011).
4 Kristin Johnson, Lonn Lanza-Kaduce & Jennifer Woolard, Disregarding Graduated Treatment: Why Transfer Aggravates Recidivism, 57 Crime & Delinq. 756, 757 (2011).
5 Griffin et al., supra note 2, at 26; Johnson, Lanza-Kaduce & Woolard, supra note 1, at 757,
6 Kristin Johnson, Lonn Lanza-Kaduce & Jennifer Woolard, Disregarding Graduated Treatment: Why Transfer Aggravates Recidivism, 57 Crime & Delinq. 756, 757, 760 (2011).  
7 Jason Ziedenberg, Nat’l Inst. for Corr., You’re an Adult Now: Youth in Adult Criminal Justice Systems, 5 (2011).
8 Benjamin Adams & Sean Addie, Nat’l Ctr for Juvenile Justice & Office of Juvenile Justice & Delinquency Prevention, Delinquency Cases Waived to Criminal Court 2009, 4 (2012); Jason Ziedenberg, Nat’l Inst. for Corr., You’re an Adult Now: Youth in Adult Criminal Justice Systems, 7 (2011)
9 The four cases are: Roper v. Simmons, 543 U.S. 551, 578 (2005) (holding that imposing the death penalty on individuals who committed murders as juveniles violated the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment); Graham v. Florida, 130 S. Ct. 2011, 2034 (2010) (holding that it is unconstitutional to impose life without parole sentences on juveniles convicted of non-homicide offenses); J.D.B. v. North Carolina, 131 S. Ct. 2394, 2394, 2403 (2011) (holding that a child’s age must be taken into account for the purposes of the Miranda custody test); and Miller v. Alabama, 132 S.Ct. 2455 (2012) (holding that mandatory life without parole sentence for juveniles is unconstitutional).
10 Roper, 543 U.S. at 569–71; Miller, 132 S.Ct. at 2464-65.
11 Kristin Johnson, Lonn Lanza-Kaduce & Jennifer Woolard, Disregarding Graduated Treatment: Why Transfer Aggravates Recidivism, 57 Crime & Delinq. 756, 758 (2011).

 

Last updated: 2/10/2015 

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