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States Grapple with the Costs of Juvenile Courts

| March 17, 2011

Studies have indicated that minors benefit more from systems focused on treatment rather than incarceration, according to this New York Times article, and by the end of the year, “New York might be the only state where adulthood, in criminal matters, begins on the 16th birthday.” However, with states pushing to increase the age of criminal responsibility, many are beginning to question the costs of such a move.  Since prosecution is more expensive in juvenile court, “opponents of the changes are questioning the costs at a time when states are facing deep budget deficits.”

An interesting study by the Vera Institute, on the other hand, shows that the benefits of raising the age of juvenile jurisdiction might very well exceed the costs. The study looked at a plan that would transfer low-level, 16- and 17-year old offenders to the juvenile system, while keeping violent offenders of the same age in the adult system. While the policy change would generate an annual net cost of $49.2 million to the taxpayer, from the youth perspective, the policy change would generate $97.9 million in long-term benefits. The study concluded that the benefits of the plan to raise the age of juvenile jurisdiction outweigh the costs and “that, from a cost-benefit standpoint, the policy change merits consideration.”

If the juvenile system is indeed better suited to “redirect the behavior of youthful offenders”, as one Wisconsin report found, in light of the substantial benefits, raising the juvenile age does, at the very least, seem to merit consideration.

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RIGHT ON CRIME is a national campaign to promote successful, conservative solutions on American criminal justice policy—reforming the system to ensure public safety, shrink government, and save taxpayers money. By sharing research and policy ideas and mobilizing strong conservative voices, we work to raise awareness of the growing support for effective reforms within the conservative movement. We are transforming the debate on criminal justice in America.

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