Eleven states raised the age of criminal responsibility to age 18 since 2007, in a reform initiative referred to as “raise the age” (RTA). Today, only three states — Georgia, Texas, and Wisconsin — consider every arrested 17 year old to be an adult and prosecute them in the adult justice system instead of the juvenile justice system. Nationally, more than 100,000 youth every year have been returned to juvenile court, with a very minimal, often temporary, increase in the use of secure facilities.

The youth justice system was designed to treat children like children: accounting for youthful indiscretions and providing rehabilitative services to get children and their families back on track. Early this century, building on advancements in neuroscience and adolescent development and a reckoning with racial injustice, states reexamined the jurisdictional boundaries between their juvenile and adult criminal legal systems. The effort began as youth arrests declined, falling by 67% between 2001 and 2018, a trend that continues today.

Each year, these initiatives have brought at least 100,000 teenagers, disproportionately Black and Latinx, back from the adult system. The number of young people in the adult system has dropped by 60%. Despite claims to the contrary, bringing these youth back under juvenile jurisdiction did not significantly increase costs, confinement, or crime.

Following a period of harsh and extreme policies that stripped minors (disproportionately young people of color) of the protections and rehabilitative nature of the juvenile court, in the 21st century, states began to reassess the way they defined childhood under the juvenile justice system.

Read the full article about raising the age of criminal responsibility by Marcy Mistrett at The Sentencing Project.