Our nation has long been a leader in economic and military might, but we have forgotten about our children, too many of whom continue to languish in adult prisons. We are behind in our efforts to decrease our incarcerated population, especially our incarcerated youth. The U.S. has the highest reported incarceration rate of any nation in the world. On any given day, more than 7,500 youth are locked up in adult jails and prisons even though the vast majority of youth prosecuted in adult court are charged with non-violent offenses.
In the 1990’s most states passed laws that made it easier to try, sentence, and incarcerate youth in the adult criminal system in response to growing fears of a new generation of so-called adolescent “superpredators.” Even though youth crime rates are the lowest they have been in two decades, an estimated 200,000 youth continue to be prosecuted in the adult criminal justice system every year. Research shows that youth incarcerated in adult jails and prisons face an increased risk of being physically, mentally, and sexually abused. Prosecuting kids as adults also increases the likelihood that they will reoffend, and youth who are transferred to the adult criminal system are approximately 34% more likely than youth retained in the juvenile court system to be re-arrested.