In some states, if you’re under 18 and you break the law, you’ll be treated as an adult, no matter how slight the crime — even if it’s just jumping a subway turnstile or shoplifting. Sixteen-year-olds in New York and North Carolina are still funneled through adult criminal courts and housed in adult prisons and jails. In Georgia, Michigan, Missouri, Texas and Wisconsin, 17-year-olds are automatically prosecuted as adults, Stateline reports. Prosecuting minors as adults has declined amid increasing awareness that young people, with brains that are still developing, may not fully understand the consequences of their actions, as well as evidence that teens are more likely to commit additional crimes if they are prosecuted as adults. Over the past decade, at least seven states have raised the age of criminal responsibility to 18, and today most states set it there.
More changes are on the way. In New York, 16-year-olds will no longer automatically be prosecuted as adults after October 2018. A year later, 17-year-olds will no longer automatically be prosecuted as an adult, with that decision left to judges in felony cases. This month, the North Carolina House overwhelmingly passed a bill that would raise the age of criminal responsibility to 18. Lawmakers in Georgia, Michigan and Missouri are considering legislation that would raise the age of criminal responsibility from 17 to 18. Since 2007, Connecticut, Illinois, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Mississippi, New Hampshire and South Carolina have raised the age to 18. Advocates point to evidence that teens who’ve been arrested are less likely to commit additional crimes if they are prosecuted as minors, and to the fact that young people in adult prisons are at a much greater risk of sexual assault than adult offenders.