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. Details »

Delinquency age boundaries

All states set age boundaries for when law-violating conduct is considered "delinquent" for a child, but would be labeled a "crime" if committed by an adult. 

The upper age of juvenile court jurisdiction over an offense committed by a minor has traditionally been through age 17 (up to age 18) in most states.  A few states with upper ages below 17 recently amended statutes to conform with the national majority.  Only seven states have yet to raise the upper age to 17, and two are not yet in effect. Louisiana raises the age to 17 for some youth on 7/1/18, and others on 7/1/20. South Carolina's upper age changes to 17 on 7/1/19.

Common law can set the lower age at seven years old, but many states specify the lower age of delinquency in statute.  The extended age of delinquency in most states is up through age 20 so the juvenile court judge can continue its standard jurisdiction or extend sanctions and services.

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    State

    Transfer discretion

    All states have statutes that make exceptions to the age boundaries of delinquency by specifying when the offense of a juvenile may or must be considered the crime of an adult.  A century ago, the decision to send a minor to (adult) criminal court was more of an anticipated sentence decision left up to the juvenile court judge. Over time, informal agreements among prosecutors, criminal court, and juvenile court judges led to local practices that varied widely. 

    Supreme Court cases in the late 1960’s and 1970’s that required procedural safeguards for juveniles similar to those for adults in criminal court (Kent, Gault, Breed, McKeiver), along with youth violent crime rate spikes during the 1980’s and 1990’s led to a rash of amendments as transfer statutes were scrutinized and dramatically changed.  State legislatures passed laws to standardize and reallocate formal transfer discretion away from the juvenile court judge. 

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      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 exceptions to age boundaries that permit or require jurisdiction of the (adult) criminal court, depending on the minor's age, history, or circumstances of the offense. Statutes explain when juvenile or criminal court may be selected as the initial venue to adjudicate or convict youth accused of qualifying offenses and when the initial decision can be changed. Other sections provide for when a juvenile disposition (sanction) or adult sentence may or must be ordered.

      Child-only status offenses (like truancy or running away) not labeled delinquent and categories of offenses assigned to municipal courts regardless of age (such as hunting license or motor vehicle violations,) are not encompassed within transfer provisions. Sections applicable only to minors who are Native American Indians or US territory residents and sections related to interstate compacts, federal jurisdiction, or international law are not described. Other procedural details can be found in state and local court rules, regulations, and other agency guidance documents.

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        State

        Compare transfer provisions

        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 waiver Presumptive waiver Mandatory waiver Statutory exclusion Once/always adult Prosecutor discretion Reverse waiver (remand) 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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