Harmful Amendment to JJDPA to Increase Youth Prosecuted in the Adult Criminal Justice System

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This month, the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee will consider S. 678, the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Reauthorization Act of 2009. S. 678 will reauthorize the bipartisan Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDPA), which has provided critical protections to youth in the juvenile justice system for over 30 years. The Campaign for Youth Justice (CFYJ) and hundreds of other organizations who support the bill have been monitoring the progress of this legislation. S. 678 is positive bill that offers a lot of protections for youth and their communities.

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Under current federal transfer law, an adult court judge determines on a case-by-case basis whether it is 'in the interest of justice' to charge a youth in adult court

This month, the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee will consider S. 678, the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Reauthorization Act of 2009. S. 678 will reauthorize the bipartisan Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDPA), which has provided critical protections to youth in the juvenile justice system for over 30 years.

The Campaign for Youth Justice (CFYJ) and hundreds of other organizations who support the bill have been monitoring the progress of this legislation. S. 678 is positive bill that offers a lot of protections for youth and their communities.

Unfortunately the Campaign has learned that Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL) or another Senator on the Committee may offer an amendment to S. 678 that would modify federal transfer laws. "Under current federal transfer law, an adult court judge determines on a case-by-case basis whether it is 'in the interest of justice' to charge a youth in adult court," said CFYJ President and CEO Liz Ryan. "However, this amendment would allow prosecutors - instead of neutral judges - to decide whether to prosecute a youth as an adult for certain federal crimes, including for attempting or conspiring to commit these crimes and for any related crimes."

This amendment offered by Senator Sessions or any similar amendment that would increase the number of youth tried as adults or that would remove a judge’s discretion to determine whether to prosecute a youth in adult court would harm public safety. Research shows that youth transferred to the adult criminal justice system are more likely to commit crimes in the future when compared to youth who commit similar crimes, but are retained in the juvenile justice system.

A 2007 report released by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that youth who have been previously tried as adults are 34% more likely to commit crimes than youth retained in the juvenile justice system.

A 2008 report by the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention in the U.S. Department of Justice concluded that transferring youth to the adult criminal system substantially increases recidivism and recommended changing laws to decrease the number of youth transferred to the adult criminal justice system.

Available data indicates that youth of color are disproportionately prosecuted in the adult criminal justice system. According to the most recent data available, African-American youth were only 19% of youth arrested by federal agencies, but African-American youth were 61% of the youth convicted as adults in the federal criminal justice system.

Although data on the prosecution of Latino youth in the federal adult criminal justice system is not available, state statistics show that Latino children are 43% more likely than white youth to be waived to the adult system and 40% more likely to be admitted to adult prison. For example, Arizona state statistics show that Hispanic youth make up over 60% of youth transferred to adult court. This disproportionately high number of Latino youth prosecuted in state courts is likely to be reflected in the federal criminal justice system as well.

According to a recent report from the Campaign for Youth Justice, 'A Tangled Web of Justice: American Indian and Alaska Native Youth in Federal, State, and Tribal Justice Systems', American Indian youth would be disproportionately affected by any change in federal transfer law, due to federal jurisdiction over American Indian lands. Although American Indian youth are only 1% of the national population, 70% of youth committed to the federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) as delinquents are American Indian youth, as are 31% of youth committed to BOP as adults.

"This contradicts public opinion," added Ryan. A recent Zogby poll conducted found that 92% of Americans believe that the decision to try a youth in adult court is best made on a case-by-case basis by a neutral decision-maker, such as a juvenile court judge. In addition, national polling shows that a vast majority of Americans support rehabilitating, rather than punishing, even serious juvenile offenders.

For these reasons, the Campaign for Youth Justice opposes any amendment to S. 678 that would increase the number of youth tried as adults or that would allow anyone other than judges to determine whether to prosecute a youth in adult court at the federal level.

For more information on this bill, please visit the Campaign for Youth Justice Web site.

Other Resources:

ACT 4 Juvenile Justice

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