At 17, Haymond Burton of Baltimore started five years in an adult prison, having been tried as an adult for attempted murder. He is behind bars with men, “grown men,” Burton tells the Baltimore Sun. “I seen people dying.” In the 1990s, concern over a rise in juvenile crime led many states to put accused teens automatically into the adult court system for some crimes. A new report says that model doesn’t work, even as Maryland prepares to begin construction on a $100 million facility to house kids charged as adults.
The Just Kids Partnership, made up of youth and legal advocacy organizations, spent a year following the cases of 135 Baltimore youths charged as grownups in the first half of 2009. The authors found that the adult justice system teaches teens to become violent criminals, subjects them to sexual and physical abuse, wastes taxpayers’ money, and unfairly targets African Americans. “The juvenile system is designed to rehabilitate  whereas the adult system is designed to punish only,” said Laura Furr of Community Law In Action Inc. Her group participated in the study, along with the Public Justice Center and United Parents of Incarcerated Children and Youth. It was paid for by the Open Society Institute, the Annie E. Casey Foundation, and the Morton K. & Jane Blaustein Foundation. If Burton had stayed in the juvenile system, Furr said, he would have likely had a trial within 45 days, instead of 15 months. He would have been required to attend school and treatment programs, and he would not have been segregated in a jail cell for 23 hours a day awaiting trial.