The maximum age of 18 for sending juvenile offenders to family court is arbitrary and should be raised, contend Vincent Schiraldi and Bruce Western of the Harvard Kennedy School’s Program in Criminal Justice Policy and Management. That age was based on the mores of a century ago rather than hard evidence, they write in the Washington Post. Citing research showing that the brain doesn’t finishing developing until the mid-20s, far later than previously thought, “it's time we expanded the protections and rehabilitative benefits of the family court to young adults,” Schiraldi and Western say. Current policy “has disastrous public safety outcomes,” they write, noting that 78 percent of 18- to 24-year-olds released from prison are rearrested, and about half return to prison within three years, the highest recidivism rate of any age cohort.
The age of family court jurisdiction in Germany and the Netherlands is 21 and 23, respectively. Many European nations have separate corrections facilities for young adults. Several states, including Florida, Michigan and New York, permit young adults' convictions to remain confidential. San Francisco's probation office has a special caseload category for “transitional-aged youth,” and the city has established a specialized youth court. New York City justice officials are experimenting with specialized handling of young adults at every stage of the process. Police and prosecutors in Brooklyn and Manhattan have started “Project Reset” to divert youths on arrest. State courts operate adolescent diversion divisions. U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch has convened an expert panel to explore developmentally appropriate responses to young adults caught up in the justice system. “Now is the time for practice to catch up with science — whether it is raising the family court's age to 21 or 25 or otherwise creating a separate approach to young adults that reflects their developmental needs and furthers public safety,” say Schiraldi and Western.