You're an adult now: Youth in Adult Criminal Justice Systems.
US DOJ: National Institute of Corrections (December 2011)
Since the world’s first juvenile court was founded in Chicago, our legal system has recognized a separate mandate to rehabilitate youth with an approach that is different than adults.1 Today, all 50 states and the District of Columbia and the federal government have two distinct systems for dealing with adults and juveniles, and corrections systems kept pace by developing different systems for dealing with the youth. While the majority of youth arrested for criminal acts are prosecuted in state juvenile justice systems, a significant proportion of youth are handled by adult criminal justice agencies.
It has been estimated that nearly 250,000 youth under age 18 end up in the adult criminal justice system every year.2 However, little attention has been directed to how adult corrections systems are managing the youth offenders that end up in jails, prisons and under community supervision. To address this information gap, the National Institute of Corrections (NIC) convened three dozen juvenile justice and adult corrections experts on June 18th, 2010, to consider some of the known issues, impacts and opportunities that face corrections systems as they work to safely and effectively rehabilitate thousands of youth offenders in the nations’ jails, prisons, probation and parole systems. This monograph presents the key findings identified during this convening of experts. Some of the most important findings for corrections officials, policymakers and the public include:
Youth transferred to the adult corrections system recidivate at a higher rate than those kept in the juvenile justice system; Pretrial, post-conviction, and community supervision corrections systems face challenges keeping youth safe, effectively providing for their services and supervision, and containing costs required to serve youth appropriately. Due to these and other challenges corrections systems face when managing these youth, the transfer of juveniles in adult institutions might run counter to correctional and rehabilitative goals; To overcome these challenges, a number of states and localities have developed innovative ways of managing youth when they have been charged, convicted and committed to the adult corrections system. These changes are helping improve public safety, contain costs, successfully rehabilitate youth and help them transition to adulthood.
By reviewing the issues, impacts and options facing corrections when they manage youth in the adult system, NIC hopes to raise awareness of these issues, and focus the field on finding the best ways to curb juvenile delinquency in correctional settings.
What is known about the issue of juveniles in the adult corrections system, and where are the gaps in data collection and information?
1) Approximately a quarter-million youth end up in the adult system each year, and most end up there due to age of jurisdiction laws.
The National Center on Juvenile Justice has compiled information for every state and jurisdiction on the three basic ways a youth can end up in the adult corrections system.
First, public safety systems can set age of jurisdiction laws: in some states, under some conditions, a youth is automatically under the jurisdiction of the adult court if they are of a certain age. In New York and North Carolina, for example, all 16 and 17-year-olds are considered adults in criminal proceedings. The largest group of juveniles who end up in the adult system arrive there through are in through jurisdictional age laws: approximately 247,000 youth under 18 ended up in adult court as a result of jurisdictional age laws in 2007.3
Second, most states have some kind of transfer law: by nature of a judicial decision, by the nature of the charge the prosecutor chooses to seek, or, by the nature of the offense, the youth’s case can be transferred to the adult system. Forty-six states have a judicial waiver provision, in 15 states, the transfer is through prosecutorial discretion, 29 states transfer is by categorical exclusion based on the offense. In some places, if a youth engages in a crime while involved in a gang or some other behavior, that makes the case eligible for transfer to the adult court. Juvenile courts transferred approximately 8,500 youth to the adult system in 2007 though judicial waiver statutes.
Finally, some states have a form of blended sentencing, where the juvenile courts are given power to impose a juvenile disposition, but if that youth does not succeed, they may then be transferred to the adult system on the same conviction.
Every public safety system draws the line between being a juvenile and being an adult differently.
Each of the 50 states, the District of Columbia and the federal government have different mechanisms that can transfer a youth to the adult court, and the “age of jurisdiction” of the juvenile justice system varies from place to place. According to the National Center on Juvenile Justice – a research entity representing juvenile and family court judges – 23 states and jurisdictions have no minimum age at which a youth can be transferred to adult court for certain offenses.4 While some states see juvenile court jurisdiction run through age 15, in others, you are not an adult for criminal justice purposes until age 18.
There are also various legal mechanisms a judge or prosecutor can choose to transfer a youth charged with a particular crime to the adult system. Similarly, the research on adolescent development that has driven so many recent changes to juvenile justice statutes also doesn’t provide a “bright line” for drawing when a 15, 16 or 17 youth may have the mixture of impulse control and reason to be considered an adult, with some researchers calling to include older youth in the their 20s in the juvenile justice system.5 In recent Supreme Court rulings on the juvenile death penalty and juvenile life without parole, the courts have made changes to the law that suggest, adulthood begins at age 18. Finally, different juvenile corrections systems have different maximum ages that they can have youth in custody: in California, Montana, Oregon and Wisconsin, a youth can be in the custody of the state juvenile justice system until age 25.
This monograph is focused on all youth under the age of 18. However, we acknowledge that the way the corrections system works, a youth who begins with corrections at 16 or 17 can remain under custody into their twenties: many of the issues and challenges systems face in serving these youth continue past their 18th birthday.
2) Youth transferred to the adult corrections system recidivate at a higher rate than those kept in the juvenile justice system.
The weight of the research reviewing the public safety impact of sending youth to the adult corrections system has found that youth tried as adults are more likely to reoffend, even when controlling for offense background and other characteristics, than comparable youth retained in the juvenile system. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Task Force on Community Preventive Services6 conducted a systematic review on the transfer of youth to the adult system. The Task Force found: Transferring juveniles to the adult justice system is counterproductive as a strategy for deterring subsequent violence: Youth who are transferred from the juvenile court system to the adult criminal system are approximately 34% more likely than youth retained in the juvenile court system to be re-arrested for a violent or other crimes. Insufficient evidence that transferring youth to the adult criminal system prevents youth crime: The Task Force found insufficient evidence to justify assertions that trying youth as adults acts as a deterrent to prevent youth from committing crime in the first place.
In June 2010, the Department of Justice’s OJJDP released a monograph, “Juvenile Transfer Laws: An Effective Deterrent to Delinquency?7“The research bulletin compiled by Professor Richard Redding found that, laws that make it easier to transfer youth to the adult court system have little or no general deterrent effect on youth, meaning they do not prevent youth from engaging in criminal behavior. The report also found that youth transferred to the adult system are more likely to be rearrested and to reoffend than youth who committed similar crimes, but were retained in the juvenile justice system.
3) Little is known about young’s people prior offense backgrounds, the court processes and decisions that impact them, and how corrections systems manage youth.
“There are no systems dedicated to collecting data on transfer today.”—Howard Snyder Bureau of Justice Statistics.8
The 51 states and jurisdictions and the federal government each have the authority to run their respective public safety systems, which usually includes a partnership between state, county and city courts and corrections. This reality means that our ability to have national understanding of what is happening to youth when they are transferred to the adult system is frustrated by the diverse ways juvenile and adult corrections operate.
While the public safety system is collecting and analyzing more data than ever before, there are significant gaps in how data and information are processed that obscure the national picture around juvenile transfer. As one national expert recently noted, “the whole pathway is missing”9 in terms of having national data sets that would allow one to know, how and why youth end going to the adult system, and what happens to youth and the systems that serve them, downstream.
Information compiled by national agencies like the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, the National Center on Juvenile justice (OJJDP), the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) and information compiled by state and local entities do sketch out the basics of how youth end up in the adult corrections system. However, the national picture one can document from national data has been described as fragmented and incomplete, with little ability to know exactly how pretrial, post-conviction and supervision systems are managing this population.
Among the biggest gaps in information why youth end up in the adult system, there is very little information that explains the “how’s and why’s “behind decisions to transfer youth to the adult system. Currently, only 13 states publicly report the total number of their transfers, and even fewer report offense profiles, demographic characteristics, or details regarding processing and sentencing.10
Critical information that currently is not collected or analyzed on juveniles who are transferred to the adult system on national basis includes:
How a youth’s case is resolved?: From the decision to prosecute the case in the adult system, to what charges youth are ultimately convicted of, and what their sentence is, little information on the court process are available. How many youth who start in the adult system return to the juvenile system?: There is no information on how many youth end up back in the juvenile system through blended sentencing, or if their charges are dropped, and recharged as a juvenile. When youth are transferred, what kind of services do they receive?: While we do know youth are required to receive certain kinds of educational services wherever they are incarcerated, there is no information on the kinds of services, interventions and programming youth may be receiving while in custody, or when they return to the community. How many youth are on adult probation and parole?: We do not know how many youth are on adult or juvenile probation and parole as result of an adult conviction, the nature of that supervision, and what kinds of services or interventions they might be receiving.
4) On any given day, there are 10,000 youth in adult prisons and adult jails. Most of these youth in adult custody were convicted of robbery and assault, and most and the vast majority will return to the community before age 21.
Data from the BJS that looks at the age of youth in adult prisons and jails has shown that, in 2009, there were 2,778 youth are in adult prisons, and approximately 7,220 in adult jails.11
Most youth who end up in the adult system were convicted of robbery or aggravated assault: these may be serious crimes, but these offenses generally do not carry the longest prison terms. A monograph reviewing the research on youth in the adult system for OJJDP, of those youth who end up in the custody of the adult system, 80 percent will be released from prison before their 21st birthday, and 95 percent will be released before their 25th birthday.12 However, there are also 2,589 people serving Life-Without Parole for a crime they were convicted of when they were a juvenile.13
5) Youth of color have been disproportionately represented among those youth transferred to the adult corrections system
As is the case in the juvenile justice system, youth of color are disproportionately impacted by the changes in statute that allow for their transfer to the adult system. African American youth make up 30% of those arrested while they only represent 17% of the overall youth population. At the other end of the system, African-American youth are 62% of the youth prosecuted in the adult criminal system and are nine times more likely than white youth to receive an adult prison sentence.14 While information is harder to obtain on the Hispanic population due to the challenges in compiling criminal justice data on this population, Hispanic youth have been found to be 43% more likely than white youth to be waived to the adult system and 40% more likely to be admitted to adult prison.15 Compared to white youth, Native American youth are 1.5 times more likely to receive out-of-home placement and are 1.5 times more likely to be waived to the adult criminal system. Nationwide, the average rate of new commitments to adult state prison for Native youth is 1.84 times that of white youth.16
6) Many youth end up in the adult system as a result of plea agreements, and are convicted of offenses in the adult court with reduced sentences.
While every state is different, research done on how juvenile transfer laws work in a number of states have found that most youth who face an adult charge are not convicted of that charge. Instead, the court process that sees a youth charged with an adult offense – an act that can move their case to the adult system – will also see these youth plead to a lesser included offense that carries a different penalty. In some cases and places, a judge may have an opportunity to return the case to the juvenile justice system for sentencing, but the youth may still be detained in pretrial as they await their disposition. One expert convened by NIC reported, as many as 75 percent of those transferred to adult court as a result of a charge are eventually convicted of a lesser offense.17 Plea agreements may result in a prison term, probation, or depending on the rules in a given state, transfer back to the juvenile justice system.
1Second Chances: Juvenile Court Centennial Initiative (1999). Chicago, Illinois: the Children and Family Justice Center.
2 Patrick Griffin, National Center for Juvenile Justice, National Institute of Corrections Convening, June 18th, 2010.
3Patrick Griffin, National Center for Juvenile Justice, National Institute of Corrections Convening, June 18th, 2010.
4 Griffin, Patrick. 2008. “National Overviews.” State Juvenile Justice Profiles. Pittsburgh, PA: National Center for Juvenile Justice. Online. Available: http://www.ncjj.org/stateprofiles/.
5Less Guilty by Reason of Adolescence. Issue Brief 3. (2007). Philadelphia, Pittsburgh: MacArthur Foundation Research Network on Adolescent Development and Juvenile Justice.
6 Center for Disease Control and Prevention (2007). Effects on Violence of Laws and Policies Facilitating the Transfer of Youth from the Juvenile to the Adult Justice System. A Report on Recommendations of the Task Force on Community Preventive Services. MMWR 2007; 56 (No. RR-9)
7 Redding, Richard E. Juvenile Transfer Laws: An Effective Deterrent to Delinquency. (2010). Washington, D.C. : U.S. Justice Department, Office of Justice Programs, Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention.
8Howard Snyder, National Institute of Corrections Convening, June 18th, 2010.
9Neelum Arya, National Institute of Corrections Convening, June 18th, 2010.
10Griffin, Patrick, et. al. Trying Juveniles as Adults: An Analysis of State Transfer Laws and Reporting (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention) (Sept. 2011).
11 Heather C. West et al., Bureau of Justice Statistics, Prison Inmates at Midyear 2009- Statistical Tables (June, 2010)].Todd D. Minton, Bureau of Justice Statistics, Jail Inmates at Midyear 2009 – Statistical Tables (June, 2010).
12 Richard E. Redding, Juvenile transfer laws: An effective deterrent to delinquency? (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention) (Aug. 2008).
14 Arya, N. & Augarten, I. Critical Condition: African-American Youth in the Justice System. (2008, September) Washington, DC: Campaign for Youth Justice.
15 Arya, N., Villarruel, F., Villanueva, C., & Augarten, I. America’s Invisible Children: Latino Youth and the Failure of Justice. (2009, May) Washington, DC: Campaign for Youth Justice.
16 Arya, N., & Rolnick, A. A Tangled Web of Justice: American Indian and Alaska Native Youth in Federal, State, and Tribal Justice Systems. (2008, May) Washington, DC: Campaign for Youth Justice.
17 Howard Snyder, Bureau of Justice Statistics, National Institute of Corrections Convening, June 18th, 2010. convening.