Teenagers prosecuted in adult courts or who do time in adult jails fare worse in life and can go on to commit more violent crimes than those who are handled by the juvenile justice system. Neuroscience research has found that these young offenders don’t weigh risks the way adults do, making them prone to rash judgments that can land them in trouble with the law.
These facts argue for steering adolescents into the juvenile justice system, where they can receive rehabilitative services and be spared adult criminal convictions that banish them to society’s margins and make it virtually impossible for them to find jobs.
This logic has prevailed throughout the country. But it has, so far, been ignored in New York State, one of only two states — the other is North Carolina — that sets the age of adult criminal responsibility at 16. (Thirty-seven states and the District of Columbia consider 18 as the age for adult prosecution, and 11 states set it at 17.) Nearly 50,000 16- and 17-year-olds in New York end up in the criminal courts each year, a vast majority charged with nonviolent crimes like fare beating, marijuana possession or shoplifting.