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New Report From the Campaign For Youth Justice Highlights Alternatives to Adult Incarceration

Posted in 2019 Press Releases

Aprill O. Turner
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WASHINGTON (April 17, 2019) -- In an effort to identify alternatives to adult incarceration for youth, the Campaign for Youth Justice (CFYJ) is learning from stakeholders across the country about their efforts to serve youth charged as adults across a continuum of care. In a new report, “If Not The Adult System,Then Where? Alternatives to Adult Incarceration For Youth Certified Adults”. CFYJ shares current and emerging practices for better serving youth charged as adults, insights from practitioners about what makes for successful programming for this population, and specific recommendations for policy and practice change.

“Failed and damaging policies that treat children as adults have always existed in the US and have deep historical roots in racist ideology.  The massive expansion of transfer laws thirty years ago trapped hundreds of thousands of youth between two systems — too often rendering them invisible and forgotten,” said Marcy Mistrett, CEO of the Campaign for Youth Justice. “Communities and states are now using research and data to bring many youth back to a more developmentally appropriate system of care. It's been affirming to talk to so many community and system leaders that now say, ‘These are our children. They belong with us here.’”

Speaking with stakeholders across the country that serve youth charged as adults across a continuum of care, CFYJ found a variety of approaches that are effective in ensuring youth are responded to in an appropriate way. These approaches include:

  • Narrowing state laws for how and when youth are sent to the adult system;
  • Investing in non-residential, community-based initiatives that offer diversion opportunities to more youth, including those charged with felonies;
  • Deploying community-based therapeutic interventions well into adolescence that are more developmentally appropriate and that may include residential treatment; and
  • Allowing youth charged and sentenced as adults to remain under juvenile justice custody and offering appropriate services to them.

Over the past two decades, recognizing that youth incarceration is overused, expensive, and ineffective at reducing recidivism and preparing youth for re-entry, the youth justice system has shifted from large youth prisons to investments in community- based alternatives to detention and smaller secure placements. Many youth justice systems also have begun relying on tenets of adolescent development, building developmentally appropriate continuums of care and ensuring that responses to youth criminal behavior have been individualized.

However, since the 1990s, tens of thousands of youth have been prosecuted as adults each year and completely excluded from juvenile court jurisdiction, therefore not benefitting from these advancements. The majority of youth charged as adults have entered the adult system without a juvenile court reviewing their case or assessing their risks and needs.

However, there has been some progress. Over the past 13 years, at least 37 states and the District of Columbia have passed laws to keep more youth in the juvenile justice system. As a result, the number of youth charged as adults in adult facilities has decreased more than 60% nationally; down from 10,000 youth per night in 2000 to 4,200 in 2016.

The report calls on states and localities to do more to invest in what is working and to include youth charged as adults in their services and programs. Too many youth aged 17 or younger are still classified as adults, and too many children still sleep in adult facilities every night. Overwhelmingly, they are African American, Latino, and Tribal youth, with 2016 showing the largest racial disproportionality in thirty years. Too many youth, seen as less innocent and more deserving of punishment, still face extreme sentences and inhumane treatment in a system designed to incapacitate adults.  The report lists recommendations to build on effective practice and invest in strategies that will help youth and communities heal while keeping communities safe.

Download the full report here.
View the interactive report here.

About the Campaign for Youth Justice:
The Campaign for Youth Justice (CFYJ) is a national initiative focused entirely on ending the practice of prosecuting, sentencing, and incarcerating youth under the age of 18 in the adult criminal justice system. CFYJ was initiated in 2004 by a parent whose son was transferred to the adult criminal court for prosecution

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