Removing Youth from Adult Jails: A 50-State Scan of Pretrial Detention Laws for Youth
Date:  09-18-2019

Report reveals children as young as age 7 years are eligible to be charged as adults and housed in adult jails pretrial
From Campaign for Youth Justice:

While proponents of criminal justice reform around the country were celebrating the passage of the First Step Act in December 2018, that was not the only major legislative victory signed into law that month. On the same day the First Step Act was signed into law, the president also signed the Juvenile Justice Reform Act of 2018 (“JJRA”). The JJRA reauthorized the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDPA) for the first time in sixteen years and, in addition to many other important reforms, the law will now require states to remove all youth, including those transferred to the adult system, from adult jails and lock-ups pretrial.

While the juvenile population held in local jails continues to decline each year, the use of adult correctional facilities to house youth presents numerous concerns and can have harmful and long-lasting effects on our youth. Research shows that the placement of youth in adult facilities are at a higher risk of physical, sexual, and emotional abuse compared to their peers detained in the juvenile justice system. Yet, according to the Office of Juvenile Justice & Delinquency Prevention, more than 5,000 children sleep in adult facilities every night, 3,200 of whom are in local jails, charged as adults.

Currently, 41 states permit or require youth charged as adults to be held in adult jails pre-trial, yet many of the youth detained in adult jails will eventually be returned to their communities on probation, sent back to the juvenile system for sentencing, or have their charges dropped. In many of these states, youth may be eligible for release, but lack the resources to post bail. Depending on the state, children as young as age 7 years are eligible to be charged as adults and housed in adult jails pretrial. Unlike juvenile detention facilities, adult jails are not designed with a focus on rehabilitation, and staff receive little or no training on the social, emotional, or psychological needs of children, nor do they provide adjustments to physical techniques used to control older inmates.

Previous iterations of the JJDPA only prevented youth facing delinquency charges from being held in adult jails, leaving juveniles charged as adults vulnerable to the dangers and shortcomings of adult jail. But under the reauthorized statute, all youth held in adult jails –including youth charged as adults, who make up about 88% of youth in adult facilities – must be removed to juvenile detention centers within three years of implementation of the new law.

The passage of the JJRA is groundbreaking, and while states will need to take action to ensure they are in compliance with this new provision, many states are well on their way to ensure youth are protected from the harms of adult jails and lock-ups. This brief provides a snapshot of where youth transferred to the adult criminal justice system are currently held pretrial across the country, and, as states prepare to come into compliance with the reforms made to the JJDPA, it takes a closer look at states that already house transferred youth in juvenile facilities.

Continue reading the full report here.