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Nationwide, fewer juvenile offenders are being tried as adults

The nonprofit Campaign for Youth Justice (CFYJ) has just issued a new report on the trends in the prosecution, sentencing and incarceration of juvenile offenders in the U.S. The report contained a great deal of good news. One trend is unmistakable: Far fewer young people in our nation are being tried as adults or incarcerated in adult prisons.

According to the report, the number of people under 18 being automatically tried in adult courts due to their age fell by nearly half between 2007 and 2014. At the same time, the number of kids under 18 who are incarcerated in adult state or federal prisons has fallen by two thirds.

The number of juveniles automatically sent to adult courts is expected to fall even farther by 2020. That is because four states (North Carolina, South Carolina, Louisiana and New York) fully implement new laws. Previously, their laws required all children aged 16 and older to be tried as adults.

"The science we're familiar with now tells us we continue to grow and age beyond childhood," said South Carolina legislator Gerald Malloy in the report. That science was reflected in Miller v. Alabama, a 2012 U.S. Supreme Court case holding that life sentences without the possibility of parole are unconstitutional for juveniles.

In Georgia, 17 year-olds are automatically excluded from juvenile court jurisdiction. A 2017 House bill to raise that age to 18 had bipartisan co-sponsors but died in committee this legislative session. As of August 2017, Georgia was one of only five states that continue to send 17-year-olds to adult court automatically, the report notes.

Also this year, the Georgia Legislature passed SB 160, a bill that expanded the list of crimes that are automatically excluded from juvenile court. The final bill laid out fewer offenses than the 105 originally introduced, but it was one of several bills introduced this year meant to increase the number of such offenses.

The report also notes that, between 2011 and 2015, Georgia was among the 5 states with the greatest number of kids under 18 serving time in state or federal prisons.

The CFYJ says the nationwide trend is positive for youthful offenders, though. "We have the majority of states not only changing one law but changing a lot of laws that treat kids like kids," said the nonprofit's CEO. "That is something to celebrate."

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