How many juveniles are transferred to adult court? For what crimes? What was the outcome of the case?
An attempt at a national study on the subject has continuously been waylaid since 2010.
That year, the Department of Justice Bureau of Justice Statistics gave $500,000 to research group Westat to conduct a study that attempted to answer some of these questions. The National Center for Juvenile Justice was chosen as a subcontractor to carry out most of the research.
NCJJ crafted a plan to canvas all 50 states, and the results were expected sometime in late 2012 or early 2013. But a broader solicitation on criminal court case processing – the National Judicial Reporting Project (NJRP) – was issued by BJS in back in 2011, and Westat won that grant as well.
Westat was then instructed by BJS to essentially merge the projects to avoid duplicative process and excess costs. As Youth Services Insider reported in 2013, this delayed everything. At the time, BJS spokeswoman Kara McCarthy told us the agency expected a release of at least some data in 2015.
So…where’s it at?
We followed up with McCarthy this week to find out. The answer: “We are collecting data in 2015, though it won’t be publicly available until 2016.
But 2016 is for sure the release date, right?
“As it stands now, yes,” McCarthy said.
Here’s an example that, in our minds, demonstrates the importance of this study. Louisiana news website The Advocate published an interesting story late last month about the Orleans Parish District Attorney and his enthusiasm for the transfer of juvenile offenders into adult court.
Reporter Katy Reckdahl’s investigation into the matter found that in 2014, D.A. Leon Cannizzaro transferred 75 percent of eligible cases to adult court. Before he took office in 2009, Reckdahl reports, “most cases that could have been transferred were not.”
Here is a section of the article that caught Youth Service Insider’s eye:
The DA acknowledges he has charted a new course. “My predecessors were far more lenient with juvenile offenders, and the results speak for themselves,” he said by email.
Yet there are no conclusive results to display, no outcomes linked to the practice of routing so many juveniles into the adult system. No central office keeps statistics on how many youths are transferred or what becomes of them.
To summarize: The results speak for themselves, but there are no results to speak of.
Baltimore got a glimpse of its transfer policy in 2010, when a group called Just Kids followed the cases of 135 juveniles who were transferred to Baltimore city adult courts between January and June of 2009.
The findings: About a third of the kids were sent back to juvenile court by a judge; a third had charges dismissed by prosecutors; and 21 percent were placed on probation. Just 10 percent of the youths were convicted and sent to prison.
Almost no states attempt to track juveniles into the adult system, so once they are transferred, they essentially become invisible as data points.
So just finding juvenile needles in the adult haystack is difficult. Learning anything about how they arrived on the adult side, or what happened after that transfer, is an even more time-consuming proposition.
YSI has heard through the grapevine that collecting information for this venture has been tough. While the data might exist in some yet-to-be-collected fashion, state agencies either don’t have the personnel or staff time necessary to track it all down.
It is pretty easy, in YSI’s humble opinion, to understand why states are less than enthusiastic here. For starters, they aren’t being offered federal funds to gather the information.
We might get some cursory intel in 2016. But our sense is that it’s going to take a serious federal investment, the threat of federal penalties, or a mammoth private research venture to gain a better understanding of the transfer of juvenile offenders to adult court.
Youth Services Insider is mostly written by Chronicle Editor John Kelly.