In Another Big Year for “Raise the Age” Laws, One State Now Considers All Teens as Juveniles

The number of states where youth younger than 18 are deemed to be adults in the eyes of the law is now down to four. And the number of states where the juvenile age extends beyond 18 is now up to one.

Those are the highlights from a legislative season that included 121 state-level bills related to juvenile justice, according to a briefing by the Campaign for Youth Justice, which is dedicated to ending the practice of trying and incarcerating youth in the adult justice system.

Juvenile Justice
In 2018, Missouri raised its juvenile justice age to 18, and Vermont made history by planning an age-raise to 20 by 2022

Every state has statutes or policies that allow youths accused of certain offenses (especially older teens) to be transferred from the juvenile justice system and tried as adults. But only a few states still set their “age of jurisdiction” below 18, meaning they view some set of minors as adults when it comes to the criminal justice system.

Fourteen states fit that bill in 2007. By 2013, it was down to 10. And now the list is down to four.

Missouri passed a bill to raise its age of juvenile jurisdiction from 17 to 18 by 2021, taking one more state off the board. The remaining states where 17-year-olds are considered adults in all cases, and no law has set in motion a raise of the age to 18: Georgia, Michigan, Texas and Wisconsin.

All four of those states have had legislation introduced that would raise the age. Michigan appears to be the likely next state to act – advocates there told Youth Services Insider that hearings on age-raise legislation are locked in for the fall, and have the support of Gov. Rick Snyder (R).

South Carolina, Louisiana, North Carolina and New York have all recently raised their ages of jurisdiction. North Carolina and New York were the only states in the union to automatically include 16-year-olds in the adult system — both of them will include most under-18 youth in the juvenile system by 2019, though New York City has run into some capacity issues in its preparation to accommodate more juvenile offenders.

On May 30, Vermont became the first state in the union to set its juvenile justice age threshold above 18. By the year 2022, with some exceptions for violent offenses, all teens including 19-year-olds will be treated as juveniles.

Marcy Mistrett, executive director of the Campaign, said Massachusetts, Illinois and Connecticut are the best bets to follow Vermont in raising the age of some 18- and 19-year-olds. All of those states have proposals introduced to raise the age up to 21, although the Illinois version only includes misdemeanor offenses.

The Campaign noted a few other states where new legislation rolled back some inclusion of teens in the juvenile justice system: Arizona, Delaware, Tennessee, Virginia and Washington.

Youth Services Insider is also intrigued by Indiana’s House Bill 1228, which requires the state to track (and publicly report on) the transfer and sentencing of juveniles in the adult corrections system. Very little information is available about what happens to youth after they are transferred; a national study on the subject funded by the Justice Department has been delayed for years, in part due to the poor data quality on the state level about post-transfer outcomes.

Note: This article was corrected to reflect that “raise the age” proposals in Massachusetts and Connecticut include both misdemeanor and felony offenses. 

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John Kelly, Editor in Chief, The Chronicle of Social Change
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