Policies in many jurisdictions providing for the automatic prosecution of some youthful offenders in adult courts were based on a “disastrous miscalculation,” editorializes the New York Times. Prosecutors argued that the practice would get violent predators off the streets and deter crime. A new federally backed study shows that juveniles who do time as adults later commit more violent crime than those who are handled through juvenile courts. The study, published last month in The American Journal of Preventive Medicine, was produced by the Task Force on Community Preventive Services, an independent research group with ties to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The group said the practice of transferring children into adult courts was counterproductive, creating more crime than it cured.
What the Times calls an even more disturbing study by Campaign for Youth Justice finds that the majority of the more than 200,000 children a year who are treated as adults under the law come before the courts for nonviolent offenses that could be easily and more effectively dealt with at the juvenile court level. With 40 states allowing or requiring youthful offenders to spend at least some time in adult prisons, some states are considering bills that would stop juveniles from being automatically transferred to adult courts or that would allow them to get back into the juvenile system once the adult court was found to be inappropriate for them. The Times endorses these ideas.