Good job, to Michele and her collaborators. I'll look forward to reading the report.
The Supreme Court sent an important message when it ruled in Roper v. Simmons in 2005 that children under the age of 18 when their crimes were committed were not eligible for the death penalty. Justice Anthony Kennedy drew on compassion, common sense and the science of the youthful brain when he wrote that it was morally wrong to equate the offenses of emotionally undeveloped adolescents with the offenses of fully formed adults.
The states have followed this logic in death penalty cases. But they have continued to mete out barbaric treatment — including life sentences — to children whose cases should rightly be handled through the juvenile courts.
Congress can help to correct these practices by amending the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act of 1974, which is up for Congressional reauthorization this year. To get a share of delinquency prevention money, the law requires the states and localities to meet minimum federal protections for youths in the justice system. These protections are intended to keep as many youths as possible out of adult jails and prisons, and to segregate those that are sent to those places from the adult criminal population.
The case for tougher legislative action is laid out in an alarming new study of children 13 and under in the adult criminal justice system, the lead author of which is the juvenile justice scholar, Michele Deitch, of the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas at Austin. According to the study, every state allows juveniles to be tried as adults, and more than 20 states permit preadolescent children as young as 7 to be tried in adult courts.This is terrible public policy. Children who are convicted and sentenced as adults are much more likely to become violent offenders — and to return to an adult jail later on — than children tried in the juvenile justice system.
UPDATE: I just received this email from Michele announcing publication of the study and giving some additional highlights:
Dear Friends and Colleagues,
I write to let you know about a new report entitled “From Time Out to Hard Time: Young Children in the Adult Criminal Justice System,” released today by the LBJ School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas. The report provides the first-ever comprehensive look at how the nation treats pre-adolescent children (primarily those age 12 and under) who commit serious crimes. The report analyzes the available data with regard to the transfer of young children to adult criminal court, documents the extremely harsh and tragic consequences that follow when young children go into the adult criminal justice system, profiles practices in states with particularly severe outcomes for these young children, looks at international practices, and offers policy recommendations.
The report, which I co-authored with three of my students, finds that more than half the states permit children age 12 and under to be treated as adults for criminal justice purposes. In 22 states, plus the District of Columbia, children as young as 7 can be prosecuted and tried in adult court where they would be subject to harsh adult sanctions, including long prison terms, mandatory sentences, and placement in adult prisons.
This issue, of course, has gained national attention recently with the cases of the 8-year old in Arizona and the 11-year old in Pennsylvania, both charged with murder, and in the case of Christopher Pittman, who was unsuccessful in his efforts last year to get the United States Supreme Court to hear his challenge to his mandatory sentence of 30-years without possibility of parole for the killing of his grandparents when he was 12 years old.
The report shows that the practice of trying young children in adult court contradicts the consensus of the most up-to-date scientific research, and details the many ways in which the adult criminal justice system is a poor and dangerous fit for these young children.
Other key findings include:
· Every year, nearly 80 children age 13 and younger are judicially transferred to adult court. Between 1985 and 2004, 703 children age 12 and under, and 961 children age 13 were judicially transferred to adult court. The total number of young children in adult criminal court actually is much higher than this, as the data does not include the number of children sent to the adult system through automatic transfer laws or laws allowing prosecutors to file cases directly in adult court.
· Many of these young children are being treated as adults for relatively minor offenses. There are almost as many youth treated as adults for property crimes as for crimes against persons. Determinations about when and whether a young child will be treated as an adult are marked by extreme arbitrariness, unpredictability and racial disparities.
· Four states—Florida, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and South Carolina—stand out as providing the worst possible outcomes for pre-adolescent offenders, given the combination of transfer policies and adult sentencing laws and practices in those states.
· On a single day in 2008, 7,703 children under age 18 were held in adult local jails and 3,650 in adult state prisons. In these adult facilities, the youth face vastly higher risks of physical and sexual assault and suicide than they would face in juvenile facilities. The youngest children are at particular risk.
· The United States is severely out of step with international law and practice. Most countries—including those Western nations most similar to the United States, countries in the developing world, Islamic nations, and even countries often considered to be human rights violators—repudiate the practice of trying young children as adults and giving them long sentences.
The report calls on national and state policymakers to keep young children in the juvenile justice system, to disallow mandatory sentencing of young children in adult court, and to always provide parole opportunities for young children transferred to adult court. We also urge that young children in the adult criminal justice system be housed in juvenile facilities, both while awaiting trial and after conviction. ...
I hope this report will be helpful to you in your work, and I would be grateful if you could help disseminate it widely to your contacts in the field. Thanks are to due to so many of you who were incredible resources to us throughout our research for this report.
All the best,