The Campaign for Youth Justice (CFYJ), a national advocacy organization dedicated to ending the practice of trying, sentencing and incarcerating youth under 18 in the adult criminal justice system, released a new report last week that takes a look at states that have and are taking steps to remove children from the adult criminal justice system.
“This report arrives at a moment when there is a real opportunity for reform,” said Jessica Sandoval, CFYJ’s VP. “States are recognizing that youth have developmental differences from adults as well as a great potential for rehabilitation, both of which should be taken into account in sentencing.”
Over the past eight years, twenty-three states have enacted 40 pieces of legislation to reduce the prosecution of youth in adult criminal courts and end the placement of youth in adult jails and prisons. The report documents the continuation of four trends in justice reform efforts across the country and highlights the key pieces of legislation enacted between 2011 and 2013.
• Trend 1: Eleven states (Colorado, Idaho, Indiana, Maine, Nevada, Hawaii, Virginia, Pennsylvania, Texas, Oregon and Ohio) have passed laws limiting states’ authority to house youth in adult jails and prisons.
• Trend 2: Four states (Connecticut, Illinois, Mississippi and Massachusetts) have expanded their juvenile court jurisdiction so that older youth who previously would be automatically tried as adults are not prosecuted in adult criminal court.
• Trend 3: Twelve states (Arizona, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Nevada, Utah, Virginia, Washington, Ohio, Maryland and Nevada) have changed their transfer laws, making it more likely that youth will stay in the juvenile justice system.
• Trend 4: Eight states (California, Colorado, Georgia, Indiana, Texas, Missouri, Ohio and Washington) have changed their mandatory minimum sentencing laws to take into account the developmental differences between youth and adults, allow for post-sentence review for youth facing juvenile life without parole or other sentencing reform for youth sentenced as adults.
According to the report there are still too many children in the adult criminal justice system, an estimated 250,000 in adult court every year, and nearly 100,000 youth are placed in adult jails and prisons each year. Half the states have not yet undertaken reforms at all. These states include Florida, New York, Wisconsin, North Carolina, and the District of Columbia.
Research also shows that youth are 36 times more likely to commit suicide in an adult jail than in a juvenile detention facility. The policy of placing youth in adult facilities is putting thousands of young people at risk.