Chapter 1: Introduction
Background to the Study The development of a
distinct justice system tailored to recognize the mitigating factors
associated with juvenile crime is recognized as one of the most
progressive developments in the evolution of criminal justice in the
United States. Prior to the 20th century, no formal differentiation had
been made between society's response to crimes committed by juveniles
and its response to crimes committed by adults. Beginning in Illinois in
1899, juvenile court systems were instituted throughout the United
States to place greater emphasis on the welfare and rehabilitation of
youth in the justice system. Specialized detention centers, training
schools, and youth centers were developed to confine and treat
delinquent youth apart from adult offenders. These facilities were to
provide a rehabilitative environment for addressing the educational,
psychological, and vocational needs of youthful offenders. Although
system crowding and funding shortfalls frequently compromise achievement
of these objectives, the goal of the juvenile court system remains
focused on protecting the welfare of youthful offenders.
concept of a distinct justice system for juveniles focused on treatment
has come under attack in recent years.
Beginning in the 1980s, communities across the nation began to
experience dramatically increased rates of juvenile crime. Alarmingly,
serious violent crimes experienced the most rapid growth. From 1984
through 1994, the arrest rate of juveniles for violent offenses
increased by 78 percent. Arrests for murder and aggravated assault
increased by 45 percent and 37 percent, respectively, from 1989 through
1993. However, since then juvenile arrest rates have declined. Between
1994 and 1998, violent offenses declined by 19 percent, although they
are still 15 percent higher than the 1989 level (Snyder, 1999). As shown
in figure 1, this trend appears to have peaked in 1994, with the 1998
arrest rates for violent crime index offenses 30 percent below the 1994
level, although the rates of arrests for serious crime by juveniles
remain well above historical levels (Snyder, 1997).
increasing incidence and severity of juvenile crime have led many to
question the efficacy of the juvenile court system and to call for a
harsher response to juvenile crime. Juvenile delinquency that results
in more serious offenses has come to be viewed as more a criminal
problem than a behavioral problem, resulting in a substantial shift
in public response to the management, rather than treatment, of juvenile
offenders. This shift is evident in increasing arrest rates, longer
periods of incarceration, fewer opportunities for rehabilitation, and,
most significantly, increases in the number of juveniles transferred to
the adult criminal justice system (Sickmund et al., 1997). This last
development is apparent in surveys of legislative trends.
that the juvenile justice system may be ill equipped to manage youth
charged with serious crimes and that the juvenile court may be too
lenient in its punishment and control of such youth, many states amended
their criminal codes so that youth charged with certain crimes may be
tried and sentenced as adults (National Institute of Justice, 1997).
Between 1992 and 1996, 43 of the 50 state legislatures and the District
of Columbia made substantive changes to their laws targeting juveniles
who commit violent or serious crimes. All but 10 states adopted or
modified laws making the prosecution of juveniles in criminal court
easier. Nearly half (24) of the states added crimes to the list of
excluded offenses, and 36 states and the District of Columbia excluded
certain categories of juveniles from juvenile court jurisdiction.
of offenses considered serious enough for transfer of youth as young
as age 14 includes murder, aggravated assault, armed robbery, and rape,
as well as less serious and violent offenses such as aggravated
stalking, lewd and lascivious assault or other acts in the presence of a
child, violation of drug laws near a school or park, sodomy, and oral
copulation. Since 1992, 13 states and the District of Columbia have
added or modified statutes that provide for a mandatory minimum period
of incarceration for juveniles held as adjudicated delinquents for
certain serious and violent crimes.
method to try a youth as an adult is to lower the age of adult court
jurisdiction. For example, seven states (Georgia, Illinois, Louisiana,
Massachusetts, Michigan, South Carolina, and Texas) have set the age of
jurisdiction at 16, whereas three states (Connecticut, New York, and
North Carolina) have lowered the age to 15 years. Missouri lowered the
age for transfer to criminal court to 12 for any felony. In all but two
states (Nebraska and New York), a juvenile court judge can waive
jurisdiction over a case and transfer youth to the adult court for
certain crimes and at certain age limits.
the legal basis for waiver varies from state to state, the trend across
the country is to expand the use of waivers. This is being accomplished
by lowering the age of adult jurisdiction, by adding to the list of
applicable crimes, and by adopting more procedures by which youth can be
transferred to adult court (e.g., either through the discretion of the
prosecutor or through legislative mandate). Currently, waiver
provisions are often applied to nonviolent offenders and, in some
states, running away from a juvenile institution is grounds for
prosecution in adult courts. Although crimes against persons are
now the most frequent offenses related to the use of waiver, the
majority of offenders are charged with property, drug, and public order
the issue of waivers is the disproportionate confinement of minority
youth. A number of researchers have noted the overrepresentation of
minority youth at every stage of processing in the justice system (Hsia
and Hamparian, 1998). Evidence that waiver decisions have been made in a
racially disparate manner may support the contention that minority youth
are being unfairly targeted for incarceration in adult facilities.
Historical Trends in the Number of Youth
Confined in Adult Facilities
confinement can be measured by the number of offenders admitted to a
facility or system in a given year or by a 1-day "snapshot" of
the number of offenders incarcerated on any given day. Using the most
recent national data and information provided by this study, 14,500
juveniles were estimated to be housed in adult correctional facilities
on any given day in 1997. Another 93,000 youth were in public and
private juvenile facilities, for a total of approximately 107,000 youth
incarcerated on any given day (table 1). Table 2 shows that the
number of juveniles in adult jails has increased markedly over the past
two decades, from 1,736 in 1983 to 8,090 in 1998. Although the
number of juveniles in adult jails has increased, the number of youth in
adult prisons appears to have declined. For example, in 1995 the Bureau
of Justice Statistics (BJS) reported 5,027 juveniles in state prisons as
compared with the 4,775 indicated in this report for 1997.
aggregate data on the number of juveniles in adult facilities, little
has been known about their individual characteristics. BJS, the primary
source of these data, recently issued a study of persons under age 18
who are held in state prisons (Bureau of Justice Statistics, 2000).
Table 3 compares the attributes of the state prison admission population
under age 18 in 1985 and 1997, as presented in the study. Major
highlights are detailed below.
The number of offenders under age 18 admitted to state prison
more than doubled from 3,400 in 1985 to 7,400 in 1997. However, persons
under age 18 have consistently represented about 2 percent of new
admissions in each of the 13 years.
In 1997, 61 percent of these admissions were for violent crimes,
which represents a substantial increase from the 52 percent admitted for
violent crimes in 1985.
Within the violent offense category, the most frequent type of
new court commitments for violent crimes was robbery (32 percent),
followed by aggravated assault (14 percent), murder (7 percent) , and
sexual assault (4 percent).
The proportion of new admission for property offenses decreased
from 42 percent in 1985 to 22 percent in 1997. This decline is primarily
accounted for by a 15-percent decrease in admitted burglary offenders.
Drug offense admissions increased from 2 percent in 1985 to
11 percent in 1997.
Public order offenders remained fairly stable between 1985 and
Prison admissions for youthful offenders who are black or
Hispanic increased from 67 percent in 1985 to 73 percent in 1997.
Although the vast majority of prison admissions for youthful
offenders are age 17 at admission, admissions in the 13-16 age group
increased from 20 percent in 1985 to 26 percent in 1997. Beginning in
1995, offenders age 14 and younger were being sentenced to prison.
In 1997, the average maximum sentence for persons under age 18
was 6.8 years, 4 months less than in 1985. Paradoxically, the average
minimum time to be served was 3.6 years, an increase of 9 months from
1985, which is probably due to reductions in good-time credits and/or
truth-in-sentencing laws. This trend in sentence length for admissions
under age 18 admissions was observed for all offense types with the
exception of the mean maximum sentence length for drug offenses, which
increased by 2 months.
On December 31, 1997, fewer than 1 percent of state prison
inmates were under age 18, a proportion that has remained stable since
report also notes that state prison admissions for the group under
age 18 grew faster than arrests, with the likelihood of incarceration
relative to arrest increasing in almost every category with the
exception of most property offenses.
Conditions of Confinement
studies have examined the conditions of confinement and issues faced by
juveniles in adult facilities. Research has shown that juveniles
in adult facilities are at much greater risk of harm than youth housed
in juvenile facilities. The suicide rate for juveniles held in
jails is five times the rate in the general youth population and eight
times the rate for adolescents in juvenile detention facilities
(Community Research Center, 1980).
colleagues (1989) reported that, although youth in adult and juvenile
facilities were equally likely to be victims of property crime while
incarcerated, juveniles in adult facilities were more likely to be
violently victimized. In 1988, 47 percent of juveniles in
prisons (compared with 37 percent of youth in juvenile facilities)
suffered violent victimization, including violence at the hands of
staff. Sexual assault was five times more likely in prison, beatings by
staff nearly twice as likely, and attacks with weapons were almost 50
percent more common in adult facilities. Clearly, safely housing
juveniles in adult facilities and protecting younger inmates from
predatory, older inmates are important issues for correctional
Policy Issues Addressed by the Study
growing number of juveniles admitted to adult facilities raises a number
of important questions for correctional administrators and policymakers.
This research provides key information for decision makers by
documenting the number and profiles of youth in adult facilities, the
legal and administrative processes by which they are waived to the adult
court system, the issues faced by adult correctional systems handling
juveniles, and those faced by juveniles who are confined in adult
facilities. The specific questions to be answered by this project are as
What is the extent of confinement of juveniles in federal, state
and local facilities? What is the legal basis for allowing juveniles convicted as
adults to be committed directly to the adult system?
national census is presented of those states permitting juveniles to be
charged and convicted as adults, housed during pretrial status in adult
pretrial facilities (jails), and sentenced to adult facilities (prisons
or jails). Moreover, a summary of recent legislation adopted by the
states is provided.
What types of adult facilities are used to house juveniles and
what is the legal basis for such commitments?
are confined in a wide variety of adult facilities. Juveniles, if
charged as adults (and for other reasons), can be housed in adult
facilities awaiting the court's disposition. As shown earlier, a far
greater number of juveniles are admitted to jails than to state and
federal prison facilities. Youth may be placed in jails because they are
being prosecuted as adults or because the jurisdiction does not have a
juvenile facility for those who require secure confinement while
awaiting the court's final disposition of the charges. Distinctions in
the legal basis for placing juveniles in adult correctional facilities
What happens to juveniles in the adult system? Are they placed in
separate areas or allowed to be housed with adults?
sound separation of adults and juveniles at all stages of judicial
processing is mandated by Congress for all states under the Juvenile
Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDPA) of 1974, as amended. This
report examines to what degree and under what circumstances this mandate
is adhered to when minors are sentenced as adults. Further, the ability
of mixed-age facilities to provide required programs and services to
minors while maintaining separation from adults is discussed.
Do juveniles in adult facilities receive unique treatment,
education, job skills training, and other services?
being placed in adult facilities, minors retain special civil rights to
education, vocational training, and other services that may require
additional or special programs. These rights have consequences in
staffing and access to appropriate programs that are responsive to the
developmental, physical, social, psychological/emotional, educational,
and family needs that are unique to adolescents.
Does the presence of minors in a mixed-age facility pose unique
management problems with respect to disciplinary incidents?
have often asserted that younger offenders are more difficult to manage
than older inmates. In some jurisdictions, attempts have been made to
house youth with older inmates who will provide a calming influence on
juveniles, especially those with long sentences. However, research has
shown that juveniles in adult populations are more likely to commit
suicide and to be victims of violence and sexual assaults. Transferred
juveniles create new problems for the adult corrections system,
including development of treatment and reintegrative services and
protection from predatory inmates. The way in which these disciplinary
issues are managed is a key discussion.
What are the alternative strategies for housing juvenile
offenders sentenced to long terms in adult facilities?
juveniles convicted of violent crimes are now facing extremely long,
life, or death sentences. This bleak future may create additional
disciplinary and mental health issues that must be managed by
correctional administrators and staff.
Overview of the Report
provides an assessment of the laws and administrative policies that
provide the legal basis for placing juveniles in adult prisons and
jails. Also presented is an analysis of the circumstances that
constitute the breakpoint between adult and juvenile proceedings. In
certain circumstances (e.g., age, offense, criminal history), a youth
younger than the statutory age of court jurisdiction can be handled in
the adult system. Other prescriptions govern the conditions under which
a youth can be held in pretrial and/or sentenced status and the types of
institutions in which a youth may be held. The range of allowable
sentences to adult facilities is also discussed.
presents the results of the national survey of the numbers and
attributes of juveniles housed in adult jails and prisons. Individuals
age 17 and younger were defined as juveniles. Using this definition, the
chapter provides an assessment of the prevalence of juvenile
incarceration in adult facilities and profiles the demographic and
offense characteristics of these juveniles.
describes the facilities surveyed and the types of programs available to
juveniles in these institutions. Of particular interest are the degree
to which juveniles are segregated from adult offenders and the types of
programs available at these institutions. This chapter also summarizes
the management issues created by the presence of juvenile offenders in
adult institutions and how correctional administrators attempt to
respond to those issues. The chapter provides a discussion of the
day-to-day issues associated with housing juvenile offenders with
identifies issues for further research and topical areas of technical
assistance that the Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA) should consider
offering to assist state and local governments to assist them in
managing juveniles in adult facilities.