In a reversal of the tough-on-crime legislation that swept the U.S. in the late 1980s and '90s, nearly half of states have enacted one or more laws that nudge more young offenders into the juvenile justice system, divert them from being automatically tried as adults and keep them from being placed in adult jails and prisons, reports the New York Times. Sarah Brown of the National Conference of State Legislatures said the shift stems from a decline in juvenile crime, concerns about the costs of adult prisons and a growing understanding of adolescent brain development showing that the young have a greater potential for rehabilitation.
Eleven states, including Pennsylvania, Texas and Virginia, keep most young offenders out of adult jails and prisons. Eight states, including California, Missouri and Washington, have altered mandatory minimum sentencing for young offenders charged as adults. Four — Connecticut, Illinois, Massachusetts and Mississippi — have broadened the powers of juvenile courts, enabling them to take cases of juveniles who would have automatically been tried as adults. And 12 states, including Arizona, Nevada, Ohio and Utah, have adjusted the laws governing the transfer of young offenders into the adult system to make it more likely that they will be tried as juveniles.