Juvenile justice reformers have been using developments in adolescent brain science and psychology to make their case for a system that emphasizes rehabilitation and second chances for young offenders. Those developments now are helping fuel an interest in how the criminal justice system treats young adults, reports the Juvenile Justice Information Exchange. This population has plenty in common with their younger counterparts because they, too, are still maturing, researchers and policymakers say. Because young adults ages 18 to 24 are disproportionately likely to commit crimes and to reoffend, they’re a prime target in the quest to reduce mass incarceration. “We don’t want crime. We don’t want victims. Our goal is to protect society. So, where do we look next?” said Lael Chester of the Program in Criminal Justice Policy and Management at Harvard’s Kennedy School, which has promoted the idea that young adults are a population worth paying attention to.
Places across the U.S. have began rolling out experiments on young adults. Among them: a community court in Cook County, Il., will focus on young adults ages 18 to 26, using restorative justice techniques that emphasize healing relationships between victims and offenders; five California counties will have the flexibility to allow some young adult offenders ages 18 to 21 to serve time in juvenile correctional facilities; the federal government has provided $31 million to organizations that can design programs to help young adults re-enter the community after serving their time in prison; and Connecticut legislators are again expected to debate this spring whether to raise the age of juvenile jurisdiction, so that youth remain in the juvenile system until age 21 rather than age 18. “If we get it right with this age group, if we intervene and significantly change their behavior for the better, we can use this as a way to improve public safety,” said Brent Cohen of the U.S. Justice Department’s Office of Justice Programs.