No Place for Youth: Girls in the Adult Justice System

Over the past three decades, States have enacted legislation making it easier to transfer youth to the adult criminal justice system. Although the process occurs with male and female youth, this document specifically addresses the challenges of transferring girls to adult court and correctional systems. Mechanisms developed to move youth into adult systems include Judicial Waiver/Transfer Laws, Prosecutorial Direct Filing, Statutory Exclusion Provisions, the “Once an Adult, Always an Adult” Provisions and Age of Jurisdiction Laws. When making those transfer decisions, less consideration may be given to the idea that adult jails and prisons are not designed for the confinement of youth, and as a result most are not equipped to meet the inherent and specific needs of adolescents. 

Even in adult facilities housing women, policy and practice were designed and delivered to the majority correctional population, adult men. Further, the physical structure, institutional culture, policies and practices may have the unintended consequences of impeding the physical and emotional safety of girls and exacerbating those very issues that brought them to the attention of the courts. Studies show that when transferring to the adult court system, youth in adult confinement do not receive age-appropriate educational, medical, or rehabilitative services. Additionally, little focus has been directed to policies, programs, classification tools, facilities, and services that are developmentally inappropriate for youth, and in this case, girls. 

While not intended as a research document, this bulletin highlights challenges when transferring juveniles to the adult criminal justice system for administrators and the individual justice involved girls. It is hoped that the audience for this document will extend beyond that of adult and juvenile correctional administrators and reach other related stakeholders who are involved in the decision-making regarding the transfer of juveniles to the adult criminal justice system. (Jim Cosby, Director, p.1)