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New Report Shows Pitfalls of Trying Kids as Adults

Ian S. Thompson,
Senior Legislative Advocate,
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August 14, 2008

Things are usually pretty slow here in D.C. during the month of August, but we got some exciting news yesterday from the Department of Justice of all places. Can you believe it? Yeah, me neither.

Nevertheless, the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) released a report that showed the pitfalls of trying children as adults. The report entitled Juvenile Transfer Laws: An Effective Deterrent to Delinquency? (PDF) concluded:

  • Laws to make it easier to transfer youth to the adult criminal court system have little or no general deterrent effect, meaning they do not prevent youth from engaging in criminal behavior;
  • 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;

It would seem the reflexive “get tough” approach that many elected officials favor for addressing juvenile crime actually only creates the kind of career criminals that cause society problems for years down the road. Simply put, the adult system is not equipped to deal with the needs of children, which, if addressed, actually help to prevent recidivism. That would seem like the win-win everyone can support no? As the NY Times presciently stated today:

Young people who commit serious, violent crimes deserve severe punishment. But reflexively transferring juvenile offenders — many of whom are accused of nonviolent crimes — into the adult system is not making anyone safer. When they are locked up with adults, young people learn criminal behaviors. They are also deprived of the counseling and family support that they would likely get in the juvenile system, which is more focused on rehabilitation. And once they are released, their felony convictions make it hard for them to find a job and rebuild their lives.

Juvenile Transfer Laws will hopefully provide our elected officials and those all-knowing shapers of public policy with the necessary information to stop creating career criminals out of children when better, more appropriate avenues are available. Next up, we need to move to end the pariah practice of sentencing children to life in prison with no possibility of parole.

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