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March 6, 2011

"States Prosecute Fewer Teenagers in Adult Courts"

The title of this post is the headline of this interesting front-page article from today's New York Times.  Here is how it gets started:

A generation after record levels of youth crime spurred a nationwide movement to prosecute more teenagers as adults, a consensus is emerging that many young delinquents have been mishandled by the adult court system.

Last year, Connecticut stopped treating all 16-year-old defendants as adults, and next year will do the same for 17-year-olds. Illinois recently transferred certain low-level offenders younger than 18 into its juvenile system.  And in January, lawmakers in Massachusetts introduced a bill to raise the age of adulthood in matters of crime, and their counterparts in Wisconsin and North Carolina intend to do the same.  By year’s end, New York might be the only state where adulthood, in criminal matters, begins on the 16th birthday.

The changes followed studies that concluded that older adolescents differed significantly from adults in their capacity to make sound decisions, and benefited more from systems focused on treatment rather than on incarceration.

A 2010 report by Wisconsin’s juvenile justice commission to the governor, James E. Doyle, and the Legislature found that “for many, if not most, youthful offenders, the juvenile justice system is better able to redirect their behavior,” in large part because of the greater availability of social services.

Most of the studies pointed to a 2005 decision by the United States Supreme Court in  Roper v. Simmons that outlawed the death penalty for defendants who were younger than 18 when their crimes were committed, because of the “general differences” distinguishing them from adults — a lack of maturity, greater susceptibility to peer pressure and undeveloped character.

It is more expensive to prosecute a defendant in juvenile court, and opponents of the changes are questioning the costs at a time when states are facing deep budget deficits. In New Hampshire’s House of Representatives, members voted overwhelmingly in 2008 to raise the age at which defendants are considered adults, to 18 from 17, but the bill died in the finance committee because of the projected cost.

In North Carolina, where proposals have failed in the last two legislative sessions, the issue has also largely been about money. “It does not make sense to take a system that all the experts agree does not have the resources to care for the children, and then add two more age groups,” said Edmond W. Caldwell Jr., vice president and general counsel of the North Carolina Sheriffs’ Association, which opposed legislation to send 16- and 17-year-olds to the juvenile courts.

An analysis by the Vera Institute of Justice, a criminal justice research group that has advocated alternatives to prison, found that transferring about 31,000 16- and 17-year-olds to North Carolina’s juvenile system would cost approximately $71 million annually, but generate $123 million in benefits each year, assuming there were fewer arrests over the long term and fewer people in jails and prisons.

March 6, 2011 at 06:13 PM | Permalink


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"...assuming there were fewer arrests over the long term and fewer people in jails and prisons."

And assuming I grow another foot and gain 100 pounds, I'll make $10,000,000 in the NBA next year.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Mar 6, 2011 8:03:20 PM

loved this statement

"the juvenile justice system is better able to redirect their behavior,” in large part because of the greater availability of social services."

So they admit the adult system is NOT about rehabilitation or redirecting their behavior....just out and out punishment and confinment.

Posted by: rodsmith | Mar 6, 2011 8:50:36 PM

A defense secretary used to say, the defense budget of the USA is set by the Soviet Union. It is not discretionary. It has to be high enough to prevent attack.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Mar 7, 2011 2:17:52 AM

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