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Sunday, March 18, 2012

Nine thousand times a year, U.S. judges move juvenile suspects into criminal court

Nine thousand times a year, U.S. judges move juvenile suspects into criminal court, opening the door to a stay in adult jail.
While judges say these transfers are meant for youths suspected of the most dangerous offenses, only two out of five transferred youths stands accused of a violent crime against another person, the Scripps Howard News Service found in analyzing data from almost a quarter-million cases. Most youths moved to adult court are charged with crimes involving drugs, weapons or property.

A case transfer flags a suspect 17 or younger as an adult. Forty-seven states allow these "certified" juveniles to be held in adult jail, the U.S. Justice Department says; 14 of them sometimes require it.

Most transferred juveniles face charges for crimes other than murder, rape, robbery or assault, National Center for Juvenile Justice data show. The Pittsburgh-based nonprofit publishes records covering 228,771 cases moved from youth court to the adult criminal justice system from 1985 to 2008.

Transfers to the adult system can negatively affect young suspects, reducing their access to social services, lengthening the time needed to resolve a case and increasing the chances that the youths will reoffend, some researchers and youth advocates say.

Judges transfer too many juveniles, said Kevin Burke, president of the American Judges Association.

"There are a fair number of not-very-serious offenders who end up getting certified. I don't quite understand that, to be honest with you," Burke said, responding to the Scripps findings. The Minneapolis-area district court judge has served 27 years on the bench.

Even a very young age doesn't exempt defendants from transfer. The database shows some 1,528 suspects 12 or younger were transferred, including 623 charged with violent crimes. More — 651 — faced charges of property crimes.

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