Accused juveniles in Missouri are much less likely these days to be tried as adults. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch says that after years of escalating youth crime, the state’s judges sent a record 302 youths for adult trials in 1996. By 2001 (the most recent data available), there were just 89 such cases. The trend is partly explained by a drop in violent juvenile crime. In St. Louis County, juvenile cases involving murder, manslaughter, rape or robbery have been cut in half since 1995. In the city of St. Louis, juvenile homicide cases fell from 28 in 1994 to two last year.
Equally significant, say experts, has been a shift in political winds that favor youth rehabilitation over adult-size punishment. When crime was peaking, so, was the demand by many to ship juvenile offenders to the adult system. Barry Feld, a law professor at the University of Minnesota, said, “Because violent crime is down, there is less political pressure to transfer kids.”
Recent research has questioned the effectiveness of sending youths to adult correction systems. One study of youths in New York and New Jersey found that those tried as adults were more likely to commit crimes after their release. “That exposure to the adult system – particularly for the youngest offenders – seems to make the kid worse,” says criminologist Scott Decker of the University of Missouri-St. Louis.