Juvenile Law Center

Juvenile and Criminal Justice

Youth in the Adult System

Every state permits juveniles to be tried as adults for certain criminal offenses. It is estimated that as many as 250,000 youth annually are prosecuted as adults.1 Research suggests that the prosecution of children as adults does little to deter crime or reduce recidivism among youthful offenders; indeed some research has found greater risks to public safety among children transferred to the adult system.

Likewise, the dramatic increases in the numbers of youth prosecuted as adults since the mid-1990s is at odds with the developmental research confirming the reduced blameworthiness of juveniles as compared to adults. Furthermore, many statutory schemes providing for the transfer of youth to the criminal justice system fail to take full account of youths’ constitutional rights.

Juvenile Law Center works to reduce the number of youth tried in the adult system and to ensure that when youth are tried as adults the procedures comport with due process and youth are treated fairly. Through participation as amicus curiae or co-counsel in litigation in Pennsylvania and elsewhere, we have highlighted abuses in the transfer process. For example, Juvenile Law Center attorneys co-counseled the interlocutory appeal of an 11-year-old Pennsylvania youth accused of murder whose rights against self-incrimination were similarly violated when the trial court refused to transfer his case back to juvenile court (Commonwealth of PA v. Jordan Brown). The Pennsylvania Superior Court agreed and remanded the case back to the trial court to reconsider its refusal of the child's motion in light of the violations of the child's rights. 

Appearing as amicus curiae with other colleagues in the New Jersey Supreme Court, we successfully argued that the statute permitting the waiver of juveniles aged 16 and 17 into the adult system violated youths' due process rights (In the Interest of V.A.).

1Campaign for Youth Justice, Key Facts: Youth in the Justice System. Washington D.C.: Campaign for Youth Justice, 2007. Web. May 2011. Citing Woolard, J. “Juveniles within Adult Correctional Settings: Legal Pathways and Developmental Considerations.” International Journal of Forensic Mental Health 4.1 (2005): 18. Print. ; See Also Coalition for Juvenile Justice. Childhood on Trial: The Failure of Trying and Sentencing Youth in Adult Criminal Court. Washington, D.C.: Author, 2005. Print.


Last updated January 2013