Trying accused juvenile offenders as adults has increased recidivism, particularly violent recidivism, among those convicted in adult courts, The Sentencing Project says in a new report on the practice. After new laws go into effect in Louisiana and South Carolina, only seven states will routinely charge 17-year old offenders as adults, including the two states that also charge 16-year olds as adults. Despite other state laws that differentiate between adults and youth, putting limits on teens’ rights to serve on juries, vote, or marry without parental consent, the criminal justice system in those place erases the distinction when they are arrested.
Though the vast majority of arrested juveniles are processed in the juvenile justice system, The Sentencing Project calls transfer laws “the side door to adult criminal courts, jails, and prisons.” This tough-on-crime era left state laws that still permit or even require drug charges to be contested in adult courts. Only Connecticut, Kansas, Massachusetts, and New Mexico do not allow such cases. The ability of states to send teenagers into the adult system on nonviolent offenses threatens the futures of those teenagers who are arrested on drug charges, regardless of whether or not they are convicted (much less incarcerated) on those charges, says the report.