States vary in how each sets the basic playing field for juvenile justice with lower and upper age boundaries. State legislatures further create a range of complex exceptions for transfer to criminal court based on case-by-case, age and offense specifics.
State juvenile justice profiles highlight the topical content of the JJGPS across its six main menu content areas and dozens of underlying juvenile justice reform topics. Each profile begins with the most recent state trend data on juvenile arrests and custody issues from national data collections followed by a checklist of highlights for comparing and contrasting juvenile justice policy.
How have the boundaries of juvenile justice changed? States must address the age boundaries of childhood and adulthood when defining 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. 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.
Four states with upper ages below 17 recently amended statutes to conform with the national majority.
6/6/16, South Carolina's Act 268 was signed to raise the age through age 17, effective 7/1/19.
6/14/16, Louisiana's Act 501 raised the age through 17 for some youth effective 7/1/18, and others effective 7/1/20.
4/10/17, New York's A3009C raised the age through 16 effective 10/1/18, and through age 17 effective 10/1/19.
6/28/17, North Carolina's SL2017-57 raised the age through 17, effective 12/1/19.
Pending implementation, only five states will prosecute law violations of a 17-year-old the same as an adult (GA, MI, MO, TX and WI).
The highest age a minor's conduct can be labeled delinquent. Details »
The lowest age a minor's conduct can be labeled delinquent. Details »
The highest age delinquent youth can remain under juvenile court jurisdiction for disposition and provision of services. Details »
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.
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 running away, unless labeled delinquent in the state) 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 related to interstate compacts, federal jurisdiction, international law, or pertaining to American Indian/Alaskan Natives or US territory residents or lands are not described. Other procedural details can be found in state and local court rules, regulations, and other agency guidance documents.
Criminal court can impose juvenile dispositions and/or adult criminal sanctions while retaining jurisdiction. Details »
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. How to use the table filters »
There are several ways for a youth's case to be transferred to adult court. Nationally, only transfers to adult court by judicial waiver are known. The National Juvenile Court Data Archive—maintained by the National Center for Juvenile Justice—standardizes data provided by the states and generates national estimates of fundamental delinquency court processing events, including cases judicially waived to criminal court.
Twenty-six states and DC report statistics for other methods of transfer. Most of these states provide a single count of youth transferred. However, six states (Arizona, California, Florida, Michigan, Rhode Island, and Washington) report detail on the multiple provisions used to transfer youth in their state including cases initially filed in adult court without a waiver. Cross-state comparisons should be made with caution as state-reported trends represent different data sources and units of count. For example Georgia's report only captures cases that received an adult sentence whereas Oregon data reflects all youth disposed to adult court despite of sentencing outcomes.
Six states track trends by transfer provision type, but some states report additional important details for understanding the results of transfer policies. Examples include demographics, such as age (9 states), gender (8), race (9) and county (14) of youth transferred to criminal court; the offense associated with the transfer (7); and sentencing outcomes (4).
This section highlights annual publications or online dashboards from states that publically report the most comprehensive or innovative presentation of information about transfer.
Click a state to see a summary of its policies and more information.
Arizona’s Administrative Office of the Court’s Juvenile Court Countsseries is notable because it is one of only five states that reports transfer provision details by provision (see Transfer trends topic above) and one of only nine states that reports transfers by race and ethnicity.
1. Direct filings include prosecutor discretion, statuory exclusions ("automatic direct filings,") and once/always adult exclusions in Arizona.
The California Department of Justice’sJuvenile Justice in California annual report series is notable for several reasons. It is among five states that report transfer data by provision type (see Transfer trends topic, above), and one of four states that reports adult criminal court outcomes. Outcomes are unusually detailed in that demographics such as age, race, and gender of adult court convictions and sentences are available.
In 2015, of the 366 convictions received:
59.6% (218) were sentenced to adult prison or the Division of Juvenile Justice (DJJ).
The Florida Department of Juvenile Justice's, Interactive Data Reports: Delinquency Profile and dashboard series is notable for permitting visitors to explore the prevalence of transferred youth across many dimensions online. Various profiles and dashboards permit exploration of transfers by provision type, geography, risk level, age, gender, race, ethnicity and offense type. The tools also contain detailed data definitions for interpreting dashboard output.
The Nebraska Juvenile Justice System Statistical Annual Report series contains data and information about age, gender, race and ethnicity, geography and sentencing outcomes. Notably, iIt is one of only a few states to report whether motions were granted (or not) for transfer both to and from juvenile court via judicial or reverse waivers.
The Pennsylvania Commission on Sentencing’s Annual Report series places it among four states that report details concerning the outcomes of adult court proceedings for youth transferred to criminal court, either by the number of convictions, sentences or both.
Adult sentences imposed on juveniles by county, 2015
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.