The age of juvenile court jurisdiction should be raised to at least 21 years old, researchers propose in a new report released by Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government citing studies that show brain development continues past the teenage years. The research is part of a series published by the Executive Session on Community Corrections at the school, which aims to develop new correctional policy and explore the role communities could play in a more “age-responsive” criminal justice system.
The age at which young people can be tried in adult court for criminal law offenses varies from state to state—in some states it has been as low as 16—and also can depend on the nature of the offense. In some states, an assessment of the youth’s age, offense and prior record can place a young offender under the jurisdiction of both the juvenile and criminal courts.
“Our new understanding of the developmental process through young adulthood and historical shifts in the early life course demand new kinds of institutions,” write Vincent Schiraldi, Bruce Western and Kendra Bradner in Community-Based Responses to Justice-Involved Young Adults.” “Young adults are malleable, and systematic changes that positively affect their lives can have long-lasting, perhaps permanent, impacts on them and, subsequently, on their communities.”
In addition to their main recommendation that the age of juvenile jurisdiction should be raised to 21, the authors propose additional “methods and processes” for 18 to 24-year-olds, offering additional support to disadvantaged and justice-involved youth as they transition into adulthood. They stress the importance of a community-based approach focused on keeping young adults connected with their families, education resources and employment.
The authors' recommendations include diverting some youth to social services in lieu of arrest (a policy that has been implemented by the Seattle Police Department), creating partnerships between juvenile courts and community organizations, and limiting the disruptive effects of pretrial detention for young adults.
Read the study here.