NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Very Few Juveniles Being Tried As Adults

July 7, 2000

Less than 1 percent of juvenile cases nationwide wind up in adult criminal courts, according to the National Center for Juvenile Justice. But criminologists say that figure may be low, because a defendant under 18 can end up in criminal court without first being admitted into the juvenile justice system.

  • According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, about 5,400 inmates in state prisons at the end of 1997 were under 18 -- and they would serve, on average, five to 10 years.
  • Some 37 percent of them were apprehended for robbery -- the most common offense -- while 13 percent were found guilty of murder.
  • The bureau also reports that 9,100 prisoners under the age of 18 were held in local jails in 1997.
  • Of the 1.75 million cases handled in juvenile courts in 1997, only about 8,400 were referred to an adult criminal court.

Ed McGarrell, director of the Hudson Institute's Crime Control Policy Center, argues that a middle ground between juvenile hall and harsh state prisons is needed. "I think it is appropriate for public safety to respond in a more punitive fashion than we have in the last 20 to 30 years. I do have reservations about putting kids in adult facilities," he says.

But, he adds, "The decline in crime in the late 1990s is at least partially attributable to the get-tough movement."

Source: Benjamin Kepple, "As More Children Are Going to Jail, Experts Ask If Approach Is Justified," Investor's Business Daily, July 7, 2000.


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