Aprill O. Turner
Campaign for Youth Justice
[email protected]
(202) 779-2910 (M)

Sadie Rose-Stern
Justice Policy Institute
[email protected]
(202) 888-6748 (M)

New Report Underscores Laws and Practices that Treat Youth as Adults Fail to Make Communities Safer 

Report Finds That Ending the Adultification of Youth by the Justice System is an Urgent and Necessary Component of Any Reforms in Law Enforcement

WASHINGTON, June 24, 2020— In recent weeks protests have erupted across the country calling for a defunding of law enforcement agencies in favor of diverting funding to jobs programs, health initiatives and other services supporting communities of color.  This must include the legal system ending the practice of treating children as if they are adults. 

A new report released today by the Justice Policy Institute and The Campaign for Youth Justice explores how the harsh sentencing of youth as adults in criminal justice continues to be a problem across the nation. Despite the reforms of the last 20 years, youth that still frequently face harsh punishment and transfer into the adult system are disproportionately youth of color. The report finds that ending the adultification of youth by the justice system is an urgent and necessary component of any future reforms in law enforcement.

“The Child, Not the Charge” report, outlines that while there has been a significant decline in the overall treatment of youth as if they were adults, racial disparities in the waiver of youth to the adult system has worsened in many jurisdictions, due, in large part, to the fact that too many jurisdictions still rely solely on confinement and transfer to the adult system for youth who engage in violence. 

While the transfer of youth into the adult system is not limited to charges against another person, reforms over the past 15 years have largely excluded youth who are engaged in violence. This is despite the fact that the research clearly shows youth are better served in the community regardless of their underlying conduct. The harms of confinement and transfer of children into the adult system actually drive higher rates of recidivism. Moreover, it exacerbates racial disparity as youth of color are more likely to be transferred into the adult system for violent behavior, despite similar rates of engagement in violent behavior by youth regardless of race or ethnicity.

“There is no evidence that sending children to the adult criminal justice system deters future crime,” said Marc Schindler, executive director of the Justice Policy Institute. “In fact, all of the evidence shows that children are at great risk of harm in the adult system and that children fare much better when they are treated in a developmentally appropriate manner with rehabilitative supports. The adult criminal justice system is not designed or equipped to work with children, and so all children regardless of the offense should be kept in the juvenile justice system.”

The juvenile justice system has undergone dramatic changes over the last two decades. The era of “super predators” and punitive policies and practices that increasingly treated children like adults has been supplanted by falling crime rates and a focus on diversion and community-based interventions that are more effective at addressing underlying needs of youth while also protecting public safety.  This same practice must apply to children who currently face charges in the adult criminal justice system. 

The report makes the following policy recommendations:

  • Eliminate transfer mechanisms for all youth, regardless of the committing offense.
  • Use community-based programming as a first choice, and any type of age appropriate confinement as a last resort.
  • Increase investments in approaches that address the needs of individual and community level victimization and increase prevention and intervention by establishing public health partnerships to reduce violence.
  • Use risk and needs assessment tools in decision making around placement and length of stay.
  • Increase age-appropriate resources for youth who are subjected to secure confinement.

“This research demonstrates that treating children as if they are adults and holding them accountable to adult punishments is wrong and in desperate need of reform,” said Marcy Mistrett, CEO of the Campaign for Youth Justice. “Our recommendations aim to improve safety outcomes for everyone. No crime committed by a child should result in adult court transfers. Rather, the juvenile justice system should serve all youth during their developmental years, ideally into their mid-twenties.”

It is time that policy makers follow the research and substantially reduce the number of youth placed in secure confinement or the adult system for acts of violence. States should be employing evidence-based, race-neutral and validated risk and need instruments to identify appropriate interventions that address the cause of the behavior in the least restrictive setting that is safe. This approach is supported by many victims of crime who recognize that simply incarcerating youth or transferring youth to the adult system fails to protect public safety and can contribute to future victimization.


About the Justice Policy Institute: 

The Justice Policy Institute, based in Washington, DC, is dedicated to reducing the use of incarceration and the justice system by promoting fair and effective policies. For additional information visit,

About the Campaign for Youth Justice:

The Campaign for Youth Justice (CFYJ) is a national initiative focused entirely on ending the practice of prosecuting, sentencing, and incarcerating youth under the age of 18 in the adult criminal justice system. For additional information visit,