Here’s why Dauphin County officials sent 16-year-old straight to adult prison
Authorities in Dauphin County this week locked a 16-year-old boy in an adult prison after accusing him of stealing a gun and shooting an older relative in Harrisburg.
In many states, this boy was reportedly sent to a juvenile detention center and independently assessed for rehabilitation. If prosecutors wanted to try him as an adult, they would have to make a strong case to “certify” him as an adult and send him to adult prison.
But that’s not how it works in Pennsylvania. In fact, it is the opposite.
Lawmakers passed Bill 33 in 1995, amid the myth that juveniles turned into ‘super predators’, resulting in minors 15 and older accused of committing, attempting or conspiring to commit, l One of eight violent crimes is automatically dealt with in the adult criminal justice system.
The onus then falls on minors to present a strong case to be “decertified” and dealt with in juvenile court, where the emphasis is on rehabilitation rather than punishment.
A separate law predating Law 33 also refers minors as young as 10 to adult court when charged with murder.
The 16-year-old arrested this week is one of seven minors currently housed in a special section of Dauphin County Jail on charges ranging from possession of firearms to manslaughter. They are only allowed out of their cells when other minors are out so as not to interact with adult inmates, county officials said.
Pa. Is one of 20 states that exclude certain serious crimes from the jurisdiction of the juvenile system, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Such systems force accused youths into adult prisons where they can languish for months or years.
In most cases, minors have their charges dropped or are ultimately sent to the juvenile system, but not before the harm has been inflicted by being initially treated as an adult, lawyers say.
A 2019 analysis of juvenile cases in Pennsylvania by The Sentinel Journal found that the system had a disproportionate impact on black youth, who were 10 times more likely to be charged and convicted in adult court than their white counterparts.
When Law 33 was first passed in 1995, the main sponsor argued that trying and convicting children who have committed “adult crimes” in adult court would be “rehabilitation” and would help deter children from dying. ” other young people to commit offenses, according to the Sentinel project. However, research into similar laws from the 1980s and 1990s has not revealed any of these claims.
Instead, such laws actually increase criminal involvement, research shows. A 2003 Commonwealth study found that young people charged in adulthood were twice as likely as similar young people sent through the juvenile system to be re-arrested within 18 months.
In the Harrisburg case, police said the 16-year-old stole a gun from a relative’s car, then shot the man as he fled. No one was hit. The circumstances are considered “aggravated assault,” which is one of eight crimes that can automatically push a minor into the adult system if a weapon is involved.
The other way minors can go directly to adult court is if they commit any of the seven crimes, including rape or theft, and have already been tried in juvenile court for any of these. seven crimes.
These “straightforward” laws have proven to be controversial, especially as the “super-predator” myth that young people were somehow becoming more dangerous than previous generations has been debunked and statistics show that the crime has declined steadily since a national peak in 1991.
State Representative Chris Rabb of Philadelphia plans to re-circulate a co-sponsorship note to introduce a bill to repeal Bill 33 in the near future.
“We should eliminate the presumption that a child should be treated like an adult by prohibiting the direct filing of matters involving children with the adult system,” Rabb wrote in his memo, noting that Law 33 was inspired by the ” racist and bipartisan trope of the ‘super-predator.’ “
Charging children like adults harms the well-being of children, their families, and the Commonwealth, Rabb wrote.
The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry wrote a declaration in 2014 against the direct deposit of minors in adult court.
“Adolescents use their brains in fundamentally different ways than adults,” the statement said. “They are more likely to act on impulse or to be influenced by their peers and less likely to stop, reflect or fully consider the consequences of their actions.”
The Supreme Court has recognized these biological and developmental differences in a series of recent decisions.
“The juvenile justice system developed over 100 years ago specifically to address the differences between suspects and juvenile and adult offenders,” the statement said. “The main goal of the juvenile justice system is rehabilitation. Consistent with this philosophy, research has shown that young offenders retained in the juvenile system have lower recidivism rates than those transferred to adult correctional facilities.
The academy recommends independent forensic reviews to decide which juvenile cases to send to adult court instead of mandatory direct cases or prosecutorial discretion.