Little Criminals

Incarcerating teens with adults


Locking up bad kids with bad adults has long been recognized as counterproductive. Yet a recent report from the Justice Policy Institute reveals that many states simply do not have enough juvenile detention slots for young offenders, even those who commit nonviolent crimes.

In Connecticut, for example, all 16- and 17-year-old offenders are tried and sometimes incarcerated as adults, even though 96 percent of those cases involve nonviolent crime. In Wisconsin, a fairly progressive state, all 17-year-olds end up in the adult system even though 85 percent of their offenses are nonviolent.

In its zeal to establish a strict 18-year-old threshold for prosecution and incarceration within the adult system, the Justice Policy Institute fails to note that mixing 17-year-old offenders with 13-year-old ones is not an ideal policy either. Many states have no effective mechanism for dealing with older, repeat-offending teenagers, aside from repeatedly dismissing adult charges, giving them multiple "chances" before finally locking them up with adults. Call it the timeout, timeout, timeout, baseball bat approach to punishment.