Raise the Age Efforts Gain Momentum
In most states, the maximum age an individual can be tried as an adult is 17. Currently, there are only five states that treat 17-year-olds as adults in criminal proceedings. In addition, New York and North Carolina are the only states that treat 16-year olds as adults in their criminal justice system. However, of the five states that treat 17-year-olds as adults, Georgia, Missouri and Texas are looking to change these laws. It’s also important to note that there are transfer laws that permit or require states to try violent offenders who are juveniles as adults for more serious crimes. Overall, this is an important reform effort which can cut down on recidivism rates for young offenders.
According to the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition, in 2015, over 22,000 17-year-olds were arrested and subjected to Texas’s adult criminal justice system. Research shows that the current system in these few remaining states does not work. According to the Campaign for Youth Justice, there is overwhelming evidence that supports raising the age for treating offenders under 18 presumptively as juveniles. When Illinois raised the age of juvenile court jurisdiction to 17-year-olds in 2014, the total number of youth in Illinois’ juvenile system dropped due to a decrease in overall crime and juvenile arrests. These reforms allow low-risk and nonviolent offenders the chance to see rehabilitative resources while more dangerous juveniles are still transferred and tried in adult courts.
Georgia, Missouri, and Texas are all considering legislation that will change presumptively treating 17-year-olds as adults. In Georgia, HB 53 would amend current law to define ‘child’ as any individual who is under the age of 18 years and has committed a delinquent act. Similarly, Representative Gene Wu of Texas introduced HB 676. Advocates of this bill claim it will save costs to the state in the long run by reducing recidivism and putting fewer people behind bars. Finally, Missouri Representative Nick Schroer introduced HB 274 with overwhelming bipartisan support. In an article published by The Missouri Times, Schroer believes the bill is simply a common-sense proposal that will change the lives of Missouri’s youth. “This is an issue that is an extremely bipartisan issue. To me, it’s a common-sense measure that needs to pick up some steam, because it can help our state’s youth and address issues in a state that is in fiscal ruin right now,” Schroer said. According to Raise the Age Missouri, people released from Missouri’s adult prisons are three times more likely to reoffend and go back to prison than youth who leave juvenile facilities. Schroer also points out this will save the state money over the long haul and place the youth in a better position to be successful in the workforce. Importantly, Schroer’s bill does not impact the ability to prosecute dangerous juvenile offenders as adults.
The ALEC model Resolution to Treat 17-Year-Olds as Juveniles outlines these reform efforts. It is important that 16 and 17-year-olds are presumptively treated as juveniles and not adults in the criminal justice system.