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Tuesday 21st of November 2017

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US study details states reforms to limit youth exposure to the adult criminal justice system

Friday 20th of October 2017
Juvenile Justice in the world

The latest report from the Campaign for Youth Justice (CFYJ) examines US legislative achievements reducing the number of young people under the age of 18 prosecuted, tried, and incarcerated in the adult criminal justice system. This objective has led 36 states and the District of Columbia to pass 70 laws since 2005. 


The number of young people under the age of 18 who were automatically excluded from juvenile courts had dropped from 175,000 in 2007 to 90,900 in 2014, due to legislative reform in five states. Since then, four other states have also raised the age at which young people in conflict with the law are eligible to be tried in adult courts. Furthermore, the implementation of ‘raise the age’ legislation in New York and North Carolina in 2019 will complete the US-wide prevention of automatic treatment of 16 year olds as adults in court because of their age.

In addition, the report examines other positive related trends during the period between 2015 and 2017, such as: nine states and the District of Columbia have passed laws limiting the housing of youth in adult jails and prisons; eight states have limited the pathways of transfer or created ways for youth to return to the juvenile court; and five states have restored judicial discretion on transfer decisions by shifting power from prosecutors or state legislatures to judges.

The report also highlights the further steps necessary to ensure that US states safeguard the best interests of juvenile offenders. As of August 2017, five states still automatically prosecute 17 year olds as adults, and have not passed legislation to change this in the near future. Those states are Georgia, Michigan, Missouri, Texas, and Wisconsin.

In her introduction to the publication, CFYJ CEO Marcy Mistrett highlights the importance of states “resisting legislation that does not reflect the overwhelming research in favour of serving youth in a developmentally appropriate, evidence-informed, community-based juvenile justice system rather than the adult system”. Mistrett also calls on states to “embrace solutions that reduce, and don’t exacerbate, penalties for youth of colour.”


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