Juvenile Law Center Releases New Report on Justice for Emerging Adults

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Juvenile Law Center Releases Report on Emerging Adults and Justice Reform in the Great Lakes States

National children’s rights group sheds light on issues facing 18-24-year-olds, a group heavily overrepresented in the justice system

Philadelphia, PA (September 2, 2020): Today, Juvenile Law Center released “Rethinking Justice for Emerging Adults: Spotlight on the Great Lakes Region,” a report on criminal justice reforms for young people between the ages of 18 and 24. The report, funded by a grant from the Joyce Foundation, cites new research which shows that these “emerging adults” share many of the same characteristics as teens in the juvenile justice system, yet they are treated very differently. Emerging adults also represent a disproportionate share of the justice-involved population, accounting for a third of all criminal arrests nationwide. They also experience the worst racial disparities in incarceration and arrest rates of any age group.

“Racism permeates our criminal justice system at every stage and available data suggests racial and ethnic disparities are worst for those in the emerging adult population,” said Katrina L. Goodjoint, Staff Attorney at Juvenile Law Center and co-author of the report. “In Illinois, 9.4 Black emerging adults are arrested per every white emerging adult. Eliminating mass incarceration and reducing racial disparities necessarily require reforming the justice system’s punitive treatment of emerging adults.”

Juvenile Law Center’s report highlights the need for a new, developmentally appropriate approach to criminal justice involvement for this population. The report includes research showing that many areas of the law—from new federal tobacco regulations to extended access to health insurance under the Affordable Care Act—already recognize and make accommodations for the developmental characteristics of emerging adulthood. Justice systems around the country have also begun to do the same. The report describes some of the new initiatives targeted at this population, including:

  • raising the age of juvenile court jurisdiction
  • youthful offender statutes
  • diversion programs, young adult courts, and other specialized criminal justice programs for emerging adults
  • modifications to mandatory sentences and other harsh penalties
  • expungement of records
  • expanded access to supports and services outside the criminal justice system.

 

“People do not magically transform from children to adults on their 18th birthdays,” said Karen U. Lindell, Senior Attorney at Juvenile Law Center and one of the report’s authors. “Other areas of the law have long recognized that fact—limiting young adults’ abilities to engage in risky activities, like drinking or purchasing firearms, and offering them additional support, like greater health insurance coverage and special education services. Yet the criminal justice system is just beginning to acknowledge the distinctive needs and characteristics of emerging adults.”

The report released today focuses on the laws and policies affecting emerging adults in six Great Lakes region states: Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio and Wisconsin. For each of these states, the report provides a comprehensive overview of the current legal landscape for emerging adults, including available data on justice-involved emerging adults, relevant criminal and juvenile justice statutes, existing criminal justice programs, and other systems serving emerging adults in the state. By providing an in-depth analysis of the current legal landscape, this report lays the foundation for meaningful criminal justice reform for emerging adults—both in the Great Lakes region and throughout the country.

 

Ms. Goodjoint and Ms. Lindell, co-authors of the report, are available for interview and comment.

 

 

About the Expert

Karen U. Lindell joined Juvenile Law Center in October 2014 as a Skadden Fellow. Karen’s fellowship project focused on developing legal strategies to improve outcomes for older youth with disabilities as they transition out of the child welfare and juvenile justice systems.

Katrina Goodjoint is a staff attorney at Juvenile Law Center, where her work currently focuses on addressing economic justice and equity in the juvenile justice system through litigation, amicus and policy advocacy efforts.