When a child is charged with a violent crime he can be transferred to adult court, where he will await trial in an adult jail and, if convicted, sentenced to an adult prison. As individuals, we may reason that a child mature enough to commit a crime should be tried and serve time as an adult.
But the decision to transfer children to the adult system comes at great cost to the child and, according to some researchers, our community.
The CDC conducted a study based on an exhaustive examination of kids in the adult justice system. What it found was that transferring children to the adult system actually increased violent acts among this population. The study taskforce went on to recommend that communities end the practice of youth transfers to the adult system if the intent of policy makers is to reduce violence.
Children incarcerated in the adult system are also more likely to be targets of violence and to cause harm to themselves. A DOJ report about sexual violence within the correctional system found that even though children make up 1% of the U.S. prison population, they account for 13% of those sexually victimized by adult inmates.
Jailed youth also have the highest suicide rate among all inmates, according to a DOJ special report about suicides and homicides within jails and state prisons.
Nationwide, 7,500 children are locked up in adult jails even though federal law prohibits the incarceration of children in the adult system. But the law does not protect children who have been transferred into the adult system.
According to records kept by the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office, an average of 22 children were held inside the Shelby County Jail during the month of April 2013. That’s down from 29 children this time last year.
Since the DOJ investigation of the Shelby County Juvenile Court, transfers of juveniles to the adult system have dropped significantly. The DOJ cited the Court for transferring too many children into the adult system and also charged it with equal protection violations due to the overrepresentation of black teens among those transferred.
According to a recent story in the Commercial Appeal, since the DOJ started investigating the court in 2009, transfers have declined from all-time high of 225 children in 2008 to 29 children as of April this year.
You can also follow the latest transfer case in Shelby County Juvenile Court by clicking on this article in the Commercial Appeal (story behind a paywall.)