Juvenile Justice

Report says costs and juvenile crime are down in some states trying 17-year-olds as juveniles

  • Print

Three states that have led a trend toward once again trying 16- and 17-year-olds as juveniles have seen falling juvenile crime and stable costs.

That’s a major finding of the Justice Policy Institute’s report, “Raising the Age: Shifting to a Safer and More Effective Juvenile Justice System,” according to the organization’s press release. The report, released March 7, looks at the results of “raising the age” in seven states that have done that in the past 10 years: Connecticut, Illinois, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Mississippi, New Hampshire and South Carolina.

The press release notes that opponents of raising the age have raised concerns that the change would overwhelm juvenile justice systems, create more juvenile crime and increase public costs. But in several states that have raised the age of adult court jurisdiction, the executive summary (PDF) says, those predictions haven’t come true. Connecticut saw its juvenile justice spending go down slightly; Illinois set aside money for the expected flood of new juveniles and never used it; and no new money was set aside in New Hampshire. Massachusetts did spend more on juveniles, but that spending was 37 percent less than expected.

The report outlines several reasons. One is that juvenile crime was and still is falling generally. Some states also underestimated the extent to which juvenile programs—which place a stronger emphasis on rehabilitation than adult prison—helped stop recidivism, the report says. Along the same lines, the report says most of these states increased their use of alternatives to juvenile detention, like probation with outpatient rehabilitation services. Because out-of-home detention is expensive and many community-based programs are funded outside the justice system, that saves money.

In addition to saving money, the report says, this approach also typically lowers recidivism. That’s better for public safety and the young people, it says. Keeping kids out of adult prison also protects them from sexual violence, a problem so common for incarcerated teens that the federal Prison Rape Elimination Act requires segregated housing for youth under 18 and “sight and sound separation” in common areas that aren’t directly supervised.

Georgia, Michigan, Missouri, Texas and Wisconsin still try 17-year-olds as adults, the report says; New York and North Carolina try both 16- and 17-year-olds as adults. The report says all of them are considering “raise the age” legislation this year, and many have started laying the groundwork by de-emphasizing out-of-home confinement. The report suggests that they continue that approach by expanding diversion programs, making mental health care available, taking an active role rehabilitating kids on probation and more.

Related story:

ABA Journal: “Age Appropriate: States raising age for adult prosecution back to 18”

Give us feedback, share a story tip or update, or report an error.