Young Adults & Criminal Jurisdiction
Written By: Kevin Lapp
As measured by developmental biology, cultural markers, and self-perception, adolescence is longer today than it has ever been in human history, with leading psychologists asserting that it lasts into the mid-twenties. This Article considers whether the extension of adolescence requires changing the allocation of criminal jurisdiction over young adults aged eighteen to twenty-five. It explores three possible responses: (1) keeping young adults within general jurisdiction criminal courts with greater accommodations, (2) expanding juvenile court jurisdiction beyond age seventeen, and (3) creating specialized Young Adult Courts.
The Article argues that criminal courts’ emphases on punishment and incapacitation are ill-suited to the individualized interventions that best serve the public’s long-term interest in safety and best promote a successful transition to adulthood. Expanding juvenile court jurisdiction would make its rehabilitative approach available to young adult offenders who, like juveniles, are not yet fully- developed adults. But it would also mean the loss of important procedural rights and a paternalistic, inquisitorial, interventionist approach that is not appropriate for young adults. Specialized courts dedicated to eighteen- to twenty-five-year- olds offer a developmentally-informed response at the front and back end of cases without unduly complicating the work of the juvenile court, avoid potential due process and rights problems, and communicate to these offenders that they are worthy of something other than punitive, assembly-line treatment as criminals. That said, creating Young Adult Courts across the nation faces several challenges and carries potential drawbacks for those diverted to young adult court and for the remainder left behind in criminal court.