juvenileIn 2012, almost 130,00 young people, from ages 18-24 were incarcerated in state and federal prisons, according to the Harvard paper. But not all of these young people are served by the same system. Juvenile delinquents are served by a system, that according to the Juvenile Law Center, “maintains rehabilitation as its primary goal and distinguishes itself from the criminal justice system in important ways.” By definition, a juvenile delinquent is a child, under the age of 18, who commits a criminal act. These children are tried by an entirely different system than those who are older than 18. Even though the difference in age isn’t substantial, often times the consequences of committing a crime are.

The 130,000 young adults admitted to state and federal prisons in 2012 accounted for 21% of our nation’s prison admissions. Academics Vincent Shiraldi, Bruce Western, and Kendra Bradnerfrom the Harvard Kennedy School, collaborated on a paper recommending “the age of juvenile court justice be raised to at least 21 years old, with additional, gradually diminishing protections for young adults up to age 24 or 25.”  They cited neurobiological and developmental research that indicates brain development continues into the mid-20s for humans. Specifically, this development occurs in the region of the brain associated with control and reasoning. The behavior of a young adult corresponds to the behavior of an adolescent, rather than a fully matured adult.

Some systems at the state and federal level have already started to make changes. In 2009, the city of San Francisco organized a special trained probation unit to help 18-25 year olds. New York City’s biggest jail, Riker’s Island is set to transfer 1,000 inmates aged 18-21 to a facility designated for them. The new facility will offer classes, counseling and a minimum of five hours of behavioural therapy. The governor of Connecticut, Dannel Malloy has stated, “We have to do more for our young people.” He will present a formal plan next year.

Nations abroad have implemented older juvenile courts. For example in the Netherlands, the age is 23, and in Germany, the age is 21. The U.S. could uses these countries as examples to make a change that could benefit our nation at large. To read more about the increasing the age of the juvenile court system, click here.