In the past eight years, nearly half of the states have changed the way their laws treat children who are charged with crimes.
The Campaign for Youth Justice recently reported on several trends in juvenile justice reform. Eleven states (Colorado, Idaho, Maine, Nevada, Hawaii, Virginia, Pennsylvania, Texas, Oregon, and Ohio) have passed laws limiting the practice of housing youth in adult jails and prisons.
Four states (Connecticut, Illinois, Mississippi, and Massachusetts) expanded their juvenile court jurisdiction so that older youth who were being automatically tried as adults are no longer prosecuted in adult criminal court.
Twelve states (Arizona, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Nevada, Utah, Virginia, Washington, Ohio, Maryland, and Nevada) changed their transfer laws to make it more likely that youth will stay in the juvenile justice system, rather than being transferred to adult criminal court.
And 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 enact other sentencing reform for youth sentenced as adults.
These reforms reflect the growing awareness among policymakers of the developmental differences between children and adults that the United States Supreme Court has recognized are relevant to the treatment of juvenile offenders. The Court’s decision last year striking down as unconstitutional all mandatory life-imprisonment-without-parole sentences imposed on children, and its 2010 decision eliminating death-in-prison sentences for juvenile nonhomicide offenders, spurred several states to eliminate all life-without-parole sentences for children.
The Campaign for Youth Justice points out that 95% of children tried in adult court are nonviolent offenders, and research shows that youth placed in the adult criminal justice system have a much higher rate of recidivism than those in the juvenile system. And children are 36 times more likely to die by suicide in an adult jail than in a juvenile detention facility.
EJI is working to end the incarceration of children in adult jails and prisons and to stop the practice of prosecuting underage children as adults.