National Center for Youth Law


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The Effects of Prosecuting and Incarcerating Youth in the Adult System
Interviews with former youth tried as adults

Each year, nearly 1,000 California youth are prosecuted, sentenced, and incarcerated as adults, despite research and legal holdings finding youth to be especially capable of rehabilitation. Approximately 80% of these cases have been “direct filed” in adult court at the discretion of local prosecutors. The youth sent to adult criminal court by prosecutors are almost entirely young people of color. These youth receive significantly longer sentences and serve those sentences in adult prisons with few education or rehabilitative services. Amplifying the tragedy, studies have consistently found that prosecuting and sentencing youth harms them and public safety.

But statistics cannot tell the whole story of the harms caused by the practice of prosecuting youth in the adult criminal justice system. In the fall of 2016, NCYL interviewed a number of young people that survived California’s adult criminal justice system in order to demonstrate that young people are redeemable and important; face numerous, complex challenges and need our help, not harm; and that California can do better than our current approaches that focus on punishment to exclusion of education and rehabilitation for youth in trouble with the law. By humanizing these youth through their own stories of redemption, we hope to change the national conversation and move towards a more just system.