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CNN Today

Report Shows Growing Number of Young People Doing Time in Adult Prisons

Aired February 28, 2000 - 1:31 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

NATALIE ALLEN, CNN ANCHOR: In the U.S., crimes committed by people younger than 18 are down, as are crimes committed by adults. But more young people than ever are doing time in adult prisons.

CNN's Kate Snow looks at the growing number of kids behind bars.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KATE SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The report by the Bureau of Justice Statistics is the first comprehensive look at how the nation has changed the way it handles under 18 criminals. The major finding: The number of young people sentenced to adult state prisons more than doubled over 12 years, from 3,400 in 1985 to 7,400 in 1997. Prompted by public outrage over violent crimes, politicians in states all over the U.S. have passed new laws since the mid-'90s, part of a get-tough approach to juvenile offenders.

JAN CHAIKEN, BUREAU OF JUSTICE STATISTICS: The state laws are shifting as to who's considered a juvenile and who's considered an adult.

SNOW: In three states, anyone over 16 is now tried as an adult. In 10 states, anyone over 17 is tried as an adult. And all 50 states have at least one rule allowing people under 18 to be handled in an adult court. The result: Offenders under 18 are more likely than ever to be put in state prison for their crimes. Some youth advocates find that alarming.

MARC SCHINDLER, YOUTH LAW CENTER: We are using the most expensive, most ineffective way of combating crime, and it's falling disproportionately on minority kids, and it's hitting youths very hard.

SNOW: The study finds minorities are more affected than white youth by the new laws. In 1997, nearly 60 percent of people under 18 entering state prison were African American; 25 percent were white.

(on camera): Overall, the juvenile crime rate has fallen since 1995. Some will argue that's because so many young criminals are being locked up. But others will argue the falling crime rate means there's no reason to treat juveniles as adults. And with new, concrete figures out there, the political debate will only intensify.

Kate Snow, CNN, Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

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