Recent empirical research has shown that juveniles do not achieve complete psychosocial maturity until post-adolescence and that trying juveniles as adults can be associated with elevated rates of criminal recidivism (Steinberg & Cauffman, 1996). In response to these as well as other concerns, several states including Illinois, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Mississippi, and New Hampshire, have recently raised their legal ages of majority in the hopes of reducing juvenile offending rates. Several states are also considering further shifts to their legal ages of majority up to and including treating most sub-21 year-olds as juveniles. Proponents of these changes argue that expanding the juvenile justice system by raising the age of majority will reduce criminal offending (Farrington, Loeber, & Howell, 2012). Critics argue that raising the age of majority may increase juvenile crime by reducing the deterrence value of an arrest (Gibson & Krohn, 2012).
Research suggests that contrary to the hopes and fears of both proponents and critics, the crime effects of these policy changes are quite small and possibly non-existent. Two recently conducted program evaluations examining Illinois' and Connecticut's 2010 juvenile jurisdiction expansion found no evidence of changes to juvenile offending or reoffending rates (Loeffler & Chalfin, 2016; Loeffler & Grunwald, 2015a). These results are consistent with a growing body of research showing the relative insensitivity of juvenile behavior to the specific choice of age of majority (Hjalmarsson, 2009; Lee & McCray, 2009; Loeffler & Grunwald, 2015b). There may be other compelling reasons to consider raising the age of majority, but to date, there is no robust evidence that doing so will affect juvenile offending.
Farrington, D.P., Loeber, R., & Howell, J.C. (2012). Young Adult Offenders. Criminology & Public Policy, 11(4), 729-750. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1745-9133.2012.00842.x
Gibson, C.L., & Krohn, M.D. (2012). Raising the Age. Criminology & Public Policy, 11(4), 759-768. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1745-9133.2012.00851.x
Hjalmarsson, R. (2009). Crime and Expected Punishment: Changes in Perceptions at the Age of Criminal Majority. American Law and Economics Review, 11(1), 209-248.
Lee, D.S., & McCray, J. (2009). The Deterrence Effect of Prison: Dynamic Theory and Evidence. Berkeley, CA.
Loeffler, C. E., & Chalfin, A. (2016). Estimating the Crime Effects of Raising the Age of Majority: Evidence from Conneticut. Criminology & Public Polciy, Forthcoming.
Loeffler, C.E., & Grunwald, B. (2015a). Decriminalizing Delinquency: The Effect of Raising the Age of Majority on Juvenile Recidivism. The Journal of Legal Studies, 44(2), 361-388. https://doi.org/10.1086/684297
Loeffler, C. E., & Grunwald B. (2015b). Processed as an Adult Regression Discontinuity Estimate of the Crime Effects of Charging Nontransfer Juveniles as Adults. Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency, 52(6), 890-922. https://doi.org/10.1177/002242781558158
Steinberg, L., & Cauffman, E. (1996). Maturity of Judgment in Adolescence: Psychosocial Factors in Adolescent Decision Making. Law and Human Behavior, 20(3), 249-272. https://doi.org/10.2307/1393975