A major trend in juvenile justice policy in the past decade has been to expand the jurisdiction of the juvenile court by increasing the upper age of jurisdiction. Today, 38 states set the maximum age at 17, 10 states—Georgia, Illinois, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, New Hampshire, South Carolina, Texas and Wisconsin—set the age at 16, and two states—North Carolina and New York—set it at 15; therefore, 16- and 17- year-olds automatically are tried in the adult system.
In 2007, a Connecticut law raised the age of juvenile court jurisdiction from 16 to 18. Connecticut previously had the largest number of inmates under age 18 in its adult system. According to recent data, the proposed change in the age of juvenile jurisdiction moves more than 10,000 new cases a year from the adult criminal justice system to the juvenile justice system. Research also shows that moving 16- and 17-year-old youth out of the adult system into the juvenile system will return about $3 in benefits for every $1 in cost.
Also in 2007, the Rhode Island General Assembly reversed the governor’s recommendation to decrease the age of juvenile jurisdiction from 18 to 17 and restored the jurisdiction age to 18. The same year, Missouri expanded juvenile court jurisdiction to include status offenders age 18 and younger. In 2009, an Illinois act raised the age of juvenile court jurisdiction from 17 to 18 for youth charged with misdemeanor offenses, while Colorado expanded eligibility for sentencing for select youth ages 18 to 21 to the youthful offender system instead of to the adult offender population.
In 2010, a Mississippi law allows juveniles charged with certain felonies— robbery, drug offense and arson— to remain in the juvenile justice system. Previously, all 17-year-olds charged with felonies were tried in adult court. The same year, an Oklahoma measure provided that those up to six months into age 18 can be adjudicated in the juvenile system for misdemeanors.
These actions are significant because extending the age limit in juvenile court affects the lives of hundreds of thousands of youths.