This country made a terrible mistake when it began routinely trying youthful offenders as adults. This get-tough approach was supposed to deter crime. But a growing number of government-financed studies have shown that minors prosecuted as adults commit more crimes — and are more likely to become career criminals — than ones processed through juvenile courts.The editorial takes as a starting point this recent publication from USDOJ, "Juvenile Transfer Laws: An effective deterrent to delinquency?" (pdf), which provides a good summary of the research surrounding whether transferring youth to adult correctional systems reduces recidivism. According to DOJ (p. 6):
In sum, to date, six large-scale studies have been conducted on the specific deterrent effects of transfer. These studies used large sample sizes (between 494 and 5,476 participants), different methodologies (natural experiment across two juris-dictions, matched groups within the same jurisdictions, or statistical controls), multiple measures of recidivism, and were conducted in five jurisdictions (Florida, New Jersey, New York, Minnesota, Pennsylvania) having different types of transfer laws (automatic, prosecutorial, or judicial).
The strong consistency in results across the studies is all the more compelling given that they used different samples and methodologies, thereby providing a degree of convergent validity for the findings. All of the studies found higher recidivism rates among offenders who had been transferred to criminal court, compared with those who were retained in the juvenile system. This held true even for offenders who only received a sentence of probation from the criminal court.
Thus, the extant research provides sound evidence that transferring juvenile offenders to the criminal court does not engender community protection by reducing recidivism. On the contrary, transfer substantially increases recidivism.