Prosecuting children as adults might make some people feel better – but it’s not making New York any safer

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NEW YORK IS ONE OF ONLY TWO  STATES IN THE NATION that automatically prosecutes and incarcerates 16- and 17-year-olds as adults.

The vast majority of these young people were convicted of only non-violent misdemeanors, such as vandalism or shoplifting.

New York also prosecutes children as young as 13, if charged with certain serious offenses, as adults. These young people are detained in separate youth facilities until their 16th birthday, when they can be transferred to adult prison.

Children incarcerated as adults are in grave danger. They are physically and sexually abused during their incarceration at a significantly higher rate than their adult counterparts.

In addition, rates of recidivism and future violence skyrocket for young people incarcerated as adults.

The punitive nature of adult prison is harmful, unforgiving, and proven to increase the chance of recidivism for young people in the justice system. We have a responsibility to our youth to remove them from the detrimental adult system: our children deserve to be treated as children.

In order to ensure the safety of New York’s children and communities – and end this shameful use of taxpayer dollars – we must overhaul purely punitive, outmoded models of justice and invest in what works.


Did you know?

  • In a study of New York and New Jersey youth charged with felonies, where in New York youth as young as 13 were prosecuted as adults and in NJ nearly all of the youth were prosecuted in juvenile court, found that New York youth “were 85% more likely to be re-arrested for violent crimes than those prosecuted in the New Jersey juvenile courts, and 44% more likely to be re-arrested for felony property crimes.”


  • A national review of published scientific evidence by the Centers for Disease Control concluded that transfer to the adult criminal justice system typically increases rather than decreases rates of violence among youth.[ii]


  • Studies show that community-based alternative-to-detention and alternative-to-incarceration programs effectively increase positive life outcomes and significantly decrease recidivism rates for children who enter the justice system.


[i]  Juszkiewicz, J. (2007, October); To Punish A Few: Too Many Youth Caught in the Net of Adult Prosecution. Washington, D.C.: Campaign for Youth Justice citing Jeffrey Fagan, “The Comparative Advantage of Juvenile vs. Criminal court Sanctions on Recidivism Among Adolescent Felony Offenders,” Law and Policy , Vol. 18., Nos. 1& 2, January/April, 1996.

[ii] CDC. (2007 Nov.16). Effects on violence of laws and policies facilitating the transfer of youth from the juvenile to the adult justice system.