Keep Youth Out of Adult Courts, Jails, and Prisons

Policy Position 12: Keep Youth Out of Adult Courts, Jails, and Prisons

Currently an estimated 200,000 youth are tried, sentenced, or incarcerated as adults every year across the United States.[1] During the 1990s—the era when many of our most punitive criminal justice policies were developed—49 states altered their laws to increase the number of minors being tried as adults. On any given day, 10,000 youth are detained or incarcerated in adult jails and prisons. Studies show that youth held in adult facilities are 36 times more likely to commit suicide and are at the greatest risk of sexual victimization.[2] Youth of color are over-represented in the ranks of juveniles being referred to adult court. In 2008, the U.S. Department of Justice and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that transferring youth to the adult criminal justice system does not protect the community and substantially increases the likelihood that youth will re-offend.[3]

Systems should recognize the growing body of research related to adolescent brain development and work to address young people’s needs. This research has shown that the prefrontal cortex is not fully developed during adolescence and that as a result youth are more likely to take risks and engage in impulsive behaviors.[4]

1 C. Angel. Crime Victims Meet Their Offenders: Testing the Impact of Restorative Justice Conferences on Victims’ Post-Traumatic Stress Symptoms, A Dissertation in Nursing and Criminology at the University of Pennsylvania. 2005.

2 Campaign for Youth Justice. Key Facts: Youth in the Justice System. June 2010.

3 Campaign for Youth Justice. Key Facts: Youth in the Justice System. June 2010.

4 Daniel Romer. Adolescent Risk Taking, Impulsivity, and Brain Development: Implications for Prevention. Vol. 52. Issue 3. p. 263.

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