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New Report Documents Ongoing Progress in Ending the Prosecution of Children in Adult Courts

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New Report Documents Ongoing Progress in Ending the Prosecution of Children in Adult Courts

Between 2018 and 2020, 23 states passed laws to keeping youth out of the adult criminal justice system

(WASHINGTON, Oct. 21, 2020) -- According to a new report from the Campaign for Youth Justice (CFYJ) – “Winning the Campaign: State Trends in Fighting the Treatment of Children As Adults in the Criminal Justice System (2005-2020)” – the number of children prosecuted as adults has plummeted over the past 15 years, and more laws passed and implemented over the past three years are likely to reduce those numbers further.

The report, while focusing on legislative developments over the last three years (2018-2020), also looks at the overall progress that has been made since 2005, when the Campaign for Youth Justice first opened its doors. Once as high as a quarter of a million children per year, by 2015 fewer than 76,000 children were being prosecuted as adults annually, and with the full implementation of laws that raised the age of juvenile court jurisdiction in Louisiana, New York, North Carolina, and South Carolina since then, that number is certainly much lower now. Between 2018 and 2020, two more states – Michigan and Missouri – passed “raise the age” laws, which will be implemented in 2021. As a result of these and other reforms, the number of children held in adult prisons has dropped 68% since 2005, and the number held in adult jails has dropped 50%.

In addition to raising the age of jurisdiction, states during the last three years also narrowed or repealed statutes that required children accused of certain offenses to be automatically charged as adults, expanded mechanisms for children to transfer back into the juvenile system, and restricted or prohibited the holding of children in adult jails or prisons. Even this year, when most state legislative sessions were cut short by the pandemic, some states were able to pass laws reducing the impact of the adult criminal justice system on their youth. In all, 23 states passed laws during the 2018-2020 period that reduced the prosecution or incarceration of children in the adult system.

“The trends clearly indicate that states are responding to research, science, and most importantly the lived experiences of youth who had been charged as adults,” says Marcy Mistrett, CEO of the Campaign for Youth Justice. “As a result, the front door of the adult system has been appropriately closed for tens of thousands of youth every year.”

The report is the fifth and final installment of a series tracking state legislative efforts to block or remove youth from adult courts, jails, and prisons. The steady, continuous progress over the course of the last 15 years has been fueled by a growing consensus that children are different from, and should be treated differently than adults. This shared belief has become increasingly bi-partisan and touched every region of the country, and it has motivated the Campaign for Youth Justice to declare a win and wind down its operations this year.

This final CFYJ report, in addition to reviewing past legislative successes, also looks forward to the year 2021 and beyond, and calls for robust action to address persistent racial disparities, and to confront the emerging revival of open racism that undermines the current consensus and sees youth – particularly youth of color – as dangerous predators to be feared rather than as children in need of support and with the potential to succeed.

According to Brian Evans, CFYJ State Campaigns Director and author of the report: “It has been gratifying, over the past decade and a half, to see such consistent progress towards treating more children as children. But there is a countercurrent, endorsed at the highest levels, the seeks to take us to the bad old days of failed ‘tough on kids’ policies. This countercurrent is rooted in racism and fighting it will be the major challenge for youth justice in the coming years.”

The full report can be found here.

For more information visit: www.campaignforyouthjustice.org


The Campaign for Youth Justice, based in Washington, DC, is dedicated to ending the practice of trying, sentencing, and incarcerating youth under 18 in the adult criminal justice system.

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