An estimated 200,000 juveniles under the age of 18 end up in the adult criminal justice system each year, says the Christian Science Monitor. That’s an increase of more than 200 percent since the 1990s, when states began passing laws that required some juvenile offenders to be treated as adults. A new report by the Campaign for Youth Justice, an advocacy group, contends that the majority of juveniles who are being tried and jailed in the adult system are not violent offenders. A handful of states are reconsidering their laws on juvenile offenders.
“We now have children as young as 14 and 15, in their formative years, who are being housed with hardened criminals,” says Ned Loughran of the Council of Juvenile Correctional Administrators. “And unless the youth has a life sentence, they’re going to be coming out sooner rather than later, and they’re going to be more of a threat to our public safety than if they’d been in the juvenile system where they can get services.” Forty states have laws that allow juvenile offenders to be tried and sentenced as adults. Youth advocates want Congress to bar states from housing any juvenile in an adult jail before trial. Conservative criminologists say the changes in the law have helped bring about the drop in crime. The laws are working as they should, they believe. “Usually, when a child is moved to the adult system, it’s a case where they have a long history of crime,” says David Muhlhausen of the Heritage Foundation.