How have the boundaries of juvenile justice changed? States must address boundaries of childhood and adulthood in the context of addressing criminal behavior. These boundaries change as public opinion about youth crime shifts. In the 1990s juvenile violence increased to historic levels. The rise in violence by juveniles changed public opinion and led to changes in state laws to make it easier for more juveniles to be prosecuted as adults. Fast-forward 20 years and juvenile crime is at an historical low and some states have changed laws in the other direction. The pace of change to restore the boundaries of juvenile justice is much slower. More »

Age boundaries

All states set boundaries for delinquency where childhood and adolescence end and adult criminal responsibility begins. State laws specify upper, and sometimes lower age limits, that define whether the law violating behavior of youth is under juvenile or criminal court jurisdiction.

The upper age of juvenile court jurisdiction has traditionally been 17 in the majority of states.  Several states that had an upper age below age 17 have recently raised the age to conform with the national majority, and many additional states have ongoing study taskforces considering raising the age.

The most recent upper age boundary change to take place has occurred in Louisiana. The reform includes an implementation and planning phase and initially excludes certain legislatively defined crimes of violence in Louisiana. The first phase is effective July 1, 2018, and tentatively for all youth, regardless of charged offense, by July 1, 2020.

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Age group name: Description

    VT NH MA RI CT NJ DE MD DC AL AK AZ AR CA CO FL GA HI ID IL IN IA KS KY LA ME MI MN MS MO MT NE NV NM NY NC ND OH OK OR PA SC SD TN TX UT VA WA WV WI WY
    State

    Transfer discretion

    All states have provisions allowing certain youth to be transferred from the juvenile court jurisdiction for criminal prosecution. The discretion for deciding traditionally resides with a juvenile court judge, a local prosecutor or a state legislature excluding youth in certain age and offense categories or making judicial waiver mandatory.

    Transfer laws changed dramatically during the 1980s and 1990s when youth violent crime was also increasing. Many states shifted discretion for the transfer decision away from judges to prosecutors and the legislature. Since then, juvenile offending as measured by arrests of youth for violent and serious offenses has decreased sharply, but the core landscape of who decides when a youth is unfit for juvenile justice system treatment has not.

      VT NH MA RI CT NJ DE MD DC AL AK AZ AR CA CO FL GA HI ID IL IN IA KS KY LA ME MI MN MS MO MT NE NV NM NY NC ND OH OK OR PA SC SD TN TX UT VA WA WV WI WY

      Data for 1960 indicates general pre-1970 data. Feld B. 1987. The Juvenile Court Meets the Principle of the Offense: Legislative Changes to Juvenile Waiver Statutes, Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology 78(3): 471-533.

      State

      Transfer provisions

      Transfer provisions are the policy pathways or laws used to reroute youth from juvenile to criminal court. State transfer provisions are typically limited by age and offense criteria to target a specific class of offender for transfer. All states have at least one provision and most have accumulated a combination of provisions. State reforms addressing the specifics of transfer age and offense criteria can widen or narrow transfer pathways without restoring juvenile court (judicial) discretion for transfer decisions. 

      Transfer provisions can be organized by the court an action is filed in to start the transfer procedure. There are also a set of mitigating provisions that provide a pathway out of criminal court and those that blend both juvenile and adult dispositions.

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        VT NH MA RI CT NJ DE MD DC AL AK AZ AR CA CO FL GA HI ID IL IN IA KS KY LA ME MI MN MS MO MT NE NV NM NY NC ND OH OK OR PA SC SD TN TX UT VA WA WV WI WY
        State

        Compare policy boundaries

        States typically respond to changes in the policy environment and perceptions of serious and violent youth crime by adjusting the offense and age criteria of their transfer laws. State comparison views and drop-down filters are useful tools for scanning how transfer provisions have changed over time and what pathways are the most common. Query examples »

        State Transfer pathways Mitigating provisions
        Juvenile court petition Criminal court petition
        Discretionary Presumptive Mandatory (automatic) Statutory exclusion (automatic) Once/always adult (automatic) Prosecutor discretion Reverse waiver Juvenile blended sentencing Criminal blended sentencing
        Number of states 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
        Alabama
        Alaska
        Arizona
        Arkansas
        California
        Colorado
        Connecticut
        Delaware
        District of Columbia
        Florida
        Georgia
        Hawaii
        Idaho
        Illinois
        Indiana
        Iowa
        Kansas
        Kentucky
        Louisiana
        Maine
        Maryland
        Massachusetts
        Michigan
        Minnesota
        Mississippi
        Missouri
        Montana
        Nebraska
        Nevada
        New Hampshire
        New Jersey
        New Mexico
        New York
        North Carolina
        North Dakota
        Ohio
        Oklahoma
        Oregon
        Pennsylvania
        Rhode Island
        South Carolina
        South Dakota
        Tennessee
        Texas
        Utah
        Vermont
        Virginia
        Washington
        West Virginia
        Wisconsin
        Wyoming

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        About this project

        Juvenile Justice GPS (Geography, Policy, Practice, Statistics) is a project to develop a repository providing state policy makers and system stakeholders with a clear understanding of the juvenile justice landscape in the states.

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