“No one has ever been able to find direct, defensible evidence that the behavior of the system regarding juvenile versus adult jurisdiction plays a direct role in overall crime trends,” said Jeffrey Butts, director of the John Jay College of Criminal Justice’s Research and Evaluation Center. “Crime trends behave the way they behave, and they have a lot more to do with general conditions in the community and everything else. If you’re working in the system, you start developing the belief that you are in control of these trends. Whenever people look at it seriously, it’s never true.”
If Florida transfers far more juveniles to criminal court than any other state and yet the state’s crime decline is about average, then it is simply wrong to credit criminal-court transfer for recent reductions in youth violence.
The 1995-2010 drop in violent crime ranged from –50% to –74% in these states, but the size of the decline was not related to the use of transfer. Florida transfers more youth than any other state, but its violent crime drop (–57%) was in the middle of the range. In states that use transfer much less often, total violent crime fell almost as much (California and Washington) or far more (Ohio) than it did in Florida.
Meaningful reforms in juvenile crime policy have been difficult to achieve. Lawmakers are torn between the views of youth advocates who defend a traditional juvenile court that no longer exists, and hardliners who want to send even more youths to an adult court system that is still not prepared to deal with them properly. Focusing the attention of policy makers on the need to build a new youth justice system with a diverse menu of options for young offenders might help calm the acrimonious debates about transferring young offenders to adult court.