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Youth Under Age 18 in the Adult Criminal Justice System

NCJ Number
Christopher Hartney
Date Published
June 2006
This fact sheet presents statistics and issues related to individuals under 18 years old involved in the U.S. adult criminal justice system , regardless of whether their State considers them adults or juveniles.
Youth who are tried as adults are subject to harsher penalties than youth processed in the juvenile system; in most States, this includes life without parole. Youth convicted in the adult system receive little or no rehabilitative programming, and their future opportunities in education and employment are impeded by the difficulty of expunging their criminal record. In adult jails and prisons, youth are at greater risk of victimization and death than youth in juvenile facilities. Sentencing youth as adults mostly impacts African-American, Latino, and Native American youth. Youth who have been imprisoned in adult facilities are more likely to reoffend than similar offenders who are processed in the juvenile justice system. There was a 208-percent increase in the number of youth under age 18 serving time in adult jails on any given day between 1990 and 2004. The number of youth under age 18 incarcerated in State prisons has been decreasing since the mid-1990s. Girls account for approximately 4 percent of youth under 18 years old in adult prisons. Felony defendants under 18 years old have less serious criminal histories than older defendants. 5 figures and 13 notes