NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Treat Juveniles Like Adults

May 1, 1995

States are holding more young offenders accountable -- by treating them like adult criminals. Nearly half of the states passed laws in 1994 giving adult courts jurisdiction over some crimes committed by juveniles. For example:

  • North Carolina lowered the age at which juveniles can be tried as adults to 13, and Oklahoma can prosecute 13-year-olds accused of murder as adults.
  • Tennessee removed the age limit for juveniles accused of certain serious and violent offenses.
  • Florida even changed its stated priority from "best interests of the child" to "public safety" for juvenile offenders older than 13 who commit serious crimes.

There are several ways juvenile cases are transferred to adult criminal court:

  • Most states have had provisions for "judicial waiver," allowing juvenile court judges to waive jurisdiction over a case and transfer it to adult criminal court.
  • "Concurrent jurisdiction" gives prosecutors discretion to file certain cases directly into criminal court.
  • At least 13 states enacted "statutory exclusion" laws in 1994 -- requiring that certain serious juvenile cases be filed in adult court.

However, trying juveniles as adults may not result in tough sentences.

  • Half the juvenile cases sent to adult court are dismissed, according to a 1994 report from the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges.
  • In 1986, 89 percent of the waived cases analyzed ended in a conviction, but two-thirds of the defendants received jail sentences of two years or less, according to the Pennsylvania Juvenile Court Judges' Commission.
  • In Florida, nearly 20 percent of the juvenile cases waived were never prosecuted, and although 96 percent of those prosecuted were convicted, more than half of them didn't receive jail or prison sentences.

Even before recent legislation, an estimated 5 percent of the more than two million juvenile arrests in 1990 were filed directly in criminal courts, and as many as 200,000 juvenile cases were processed in adult court.

Source: Donna Hunzeker, "Grown Up Time," State Legislatures, May 1995.


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