Tough on Kids

New report from The Sentencing Project, “How Tough on Crime Became Tough on Kids,” discusses how the tough-on-crime era resulted in many juvenile drug cases (in addition to the more obvious serious and violent crimes) being eligible for adult court adjudication. Forty-six states and the District of Columbia permit juveniles to be tried as adults on drug charges. The report summarizes the data: from 1989 to 1992, drug offense cases were more likely to be judicially waived to adult courts than any other offense category. The conclusion:
“The ability of states to send teenagers into the adult system on nonviolent offenses, a relic of the war on drugs, threatens the futures of those teenagers who are arrested on drug charges, regardless of whether or not they are convicted (much less incarcerated) on those charges. Transfer laws have been shown to increase recidivism, particularly violent recidivism, among those convicted in adult courts. Research shows waiver laws are disproportionately used on youth of color. Moreover, an adult arrest record can carry collateral consequences that a juvenile record might not. Since very few criminal charges ever enter the trial phase, the mere threat of adult prison time contributes to some teenagers’ guilty pleas. This policy report reviews the methods by which juveniles can be tried as adults for drug offenses and the consequences of the unchecked power of some local prosecutors.”

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