Since the 1980’s, nearly every state has passed or expanded juvenile transfer laws that allow kids to be tried as adults in some cases. But a recent report from the federal Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) found that only 13 states publicly report how many kids are transferred each year and even fewer report any details of those transfers.
According to the report, in the states that publicly reported, 14,000 youth were transferred to criminal courts in 2007, the last year data was available. However, that number has declined sharply since 1994.
Writing in the report, OJJDP Acting Administrator Jeff Slowikowski said, “To obtain the critical information that policymakers, planners, and other concerned citizens need to assess the impact of expanded transfer laws, we must extend our knowledge of the prosecution of juveniles in criminal courts.”
Young people accused of a crime are sent to juvenile or criminal court, in part, based on their age — 18 in most states, but as young as 16 in others, the report says. Those under that age fall under the juvenile court’s jurisdiction. But youth can be transferred to criminal courts in some situations, and each state has its own procedure. Some states allow the juvenile court to waive jurisdiction. Although some standards are in place, the judge often has final discretion. In other states, the transfer is solely at the discretion of the prosecutor. Many states have statutory exclusion laws that mandate certain classes of crimes automatically be transferred to criminal court.
Some states have a wide variety of ways for juveniles to be transferred to criminal court. Georgia, for example, allows for statutory exclusion and prosecutorial discretion, as well as discretionary and mandatory judicial waiver, according to the OJJDP report. There is no minimum age to enter Georgia’s juvenile court system, but children as young as 12 may be transferred to criminal court. However, Georgia also allows for reverse waiver in which a youth is transferred back to juvenile court.
OJJDP also reports that many juveniles are housed in state prisons. A survey in 2009 found that 2,778 inmates under the age of 18 were held in state prisons. Nearly half of those, 46 percent, were in southern states. Florida and Texas led the pack with 393 and 156 respectively. Georgia had 99 youth in state prisons.