Trying Juveniles as Adults: A
Case of Racial and Ethnic Bias?
Juvenile justice policies have become increasingly punitive over the last two decades. Symbolizing a tough, no-nonsense approach to serious juvenile crime, these policies abandon the traditional principles of the juvenile justice system and adopt punishment, accountability, and public safety as primary goals. The general argument is that to protect the public, serious juvenile offenders must be held accountable for their behavior and receive punishment that is equivalent to their criminal acts (Feld, 1999, 2000; Jackson & Pabon, 2000; Redding, 2000; Zimring, 1998). These policies further suggest that the juvenile justice system is ill equipped to handle serious juvenile offenders and that there are no important psychological differences between juveniles and adults to consider in determining criminal responsibility (Feld, 1999; Jackson & Pabon, 2000; Steinberg, 2000; Zimring, 1998).
Juvenile transfer reforms clearly reflect this shift in the perception and treatment of juvenile offenders. Despite declines in both violent and property juvenile crime rates, virtually all states have revised and/or adopted policies to increase the prosecution of juveniles as adults. For example, in March 2000, California passed the Gang Violence and Youth Crime Prevention Act (Proposition 21) requiring juveniles 14 and older to be tried as adults for specific violent crimes and giving prosecutors the option of transferring certain types of juvenile cases (e.g., gang involvement) to adult court without judicial review (Dorfman & Schiraldi, 2001; Gonzales, 2000; Weick & Angulo, 2000). At the federal level, both Houses of Con-