A generation after record levels of youth crime spurred a nationwide movement to prosecute more teenagers as adults, a consensus is emerging that many young delinquents have been mishandled by the adult court system, reports the New York Times. Studies have concluded that older adolescents differed significantly from adults in their capacity to make sound decisions, and benefited more from systems focused on treatment rather than on incarceration.
Last year, Connecticut stopped treating all 16-year-old defendants as adults, and next year will do the same for 17-year-olds. Illinois recently transferred certain low-level offenders younger than 18 into its juvenile system. And in January, lawmakers in Massachusetts introduced a bill to raise the age of adulthood in matters of crime, and their counterparts in Wisconsin and North Carolina intend to do the same. By year's end, New York might be the only state where adulthood, in criminal matters, begins on the 16th birthday. The changes emerged following a 2005 Supreme Court decision that outlawed the death penalty for defendants who were younger than 18 when their crimes were committed, because of the “general differences” distinguishing them from adults — a lack of maturity, greater susceptibility to peer pressure and undeveloped character.