“Raise the Age” Laws are Smart for All Involved
Incarcerating juveniles in adult prison facilities was banned in 2002 with the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act. The act was intended to protect juveniles and now only in very limited circumstances can they still be jailed in adult prisons. Importantly, this act does not prevent states from prosecuting juvenile offenders who commit violent crimes such as murder, rape and armed robbery as adults. In essence, the act only applies to housing and detention of juvenile offenders, not charging juvenile offenders.
In 2016, New York had 24,625 arrests of 16 and 17-year-olds and 70% of these minors were arrested for misdemeanor crimes. Making these juveniles face incarceration for insignificant crimes has proved to have a negative effect on them. In fact, studies have shown minors who have committed nonviolent crimes that are charged as adults are 34% more likely to be re-arrested than minors that stay in the juvenile system. Minors in adult prisons are cut off from the rehabilitative services that are available in juvenile detention centers. Drug and alcohol abuse treatment, academic services and counseling are all services found in juvenile facilities that are immensely helpful in guiding minors away from the same mistakes. In some unique juvenile detention centers, every young person that enters the juvenile detention system is processed through an intervention center to find out what their needs are. Innovative institutions like this should get credit for helping these minors become a positive member of society.
Missing out on rehabilitative services is only part of the danger these minors face. Juveniles in adult prisons are at a much higher risk of being sexually abused. Since 2005, studies have called for addressing special considerations for juveniles in adult systems to combat the risk of sexual abuse.
Juveniles benefit from being out of adult prisons, but the rest of society also benefits from keeping them in juvenile centers. Connecticut implemented their “raise the age” laws in 2007 and saw spending on juvenile justice go down even though it was predicted to increase. The evidence suggests putting minors into juvenile facilities saves taxpayers money in the long run as the rate of re-arrests declined. For example, in Connecticut the arrest rate of those aged 15-19 dropped by over 50%.
Illinois put into action a similar “raise the age” law in 2010 that allowed 17-year-olds charged with misdemeanors to be tried in juvenile court. Even though many thought this would fill up juvenile detention centers quickly, the total number of minors in the juvenile system actually dropped due to decreases in overall crime. Connecticut and Illinois proved keeping minors out of adult prisons is beneficial to the taxpayers and to the juvenile offender.