Nine thousand times a year, judges move juvenile suspects into criminal court, opening the door to a stay in an adult prison. While judges say these transfers are meant for youths suspected of the most dangerous offenses, only two out of five transferred youths stands accused of a violent crime against another person, the Scripps Howard News Service found in analyzing data from almost a quarter-million cases.
Most youths moved to adult court are charged with crimes involving drugs, weapons or property. Forty-seven states allow these “certified” juveniles to be held in adult jail, the U.S. Justice Department says; 14 of them sometimes require it. Most transferred juveniles face charges for crimes other than murder, rape, robbery or assault, National Center for Juvenile Justice data show. The Pittsburgh-based nonprofit has records on 228,771 cases moved from youth court to the adult justice system from 1985 to 2008. Transfers to the adult system can negatively affect young suspects, reducing their access to social services, increasing the time needed to resolve a case and raising the chances that the youths will reoffend, researchers and youth advocates say.