Raise the Age

Evidence Rating  
Evidence rating: Expert Opinion

Strategies with this rating are recommended by credible, impartial experts but have limited research documenting effects; further research, often with stronger designs, is needed to confirm effects.

Disparity Rating  
Disparity rating: Potential to decrease disparities

Strategies with this rating have the potential to decrease or eliminate disparities between subgroups. Rating is suggested by evidence, expert opinion or strategy design.

Health Factors  
Decision Makers
Date last updated

Raise the Age (RTA) legislation increases the age boundaries for youth to be processed in the juvenile justice system. States can raise the age of maximum juvenile court jurisdiction to 18 or 19 so that a minor youth accused of a delinquent act is charged in a juvenile court instead of an adult court. States can also raise the minimum age of juvenile prosecution so that young children under the minimum age are served in social service and child welfare systems, not through juvenile courts1, 2. The upper and lower age boundaries can vary by state and offense type (e.g., homicide, severe crime, misdemeanor offense).

What could this strategy improve?

Expected Benefits

Our evidence rating is based on the likelihood of achieving these outcomes:

  • Improved youth development

  • Increased educational attainment

Potential Benefits

Our evidence rating is not based on these outcomes, but these benefits may also be possible:

  • Reduced recidivism

What does the research say about effectiveness?

Raise the Age (RTA) legislation, including raising both the minimum and maximum ages, is a recommended strategy to improve youth development and education3, 4. Experts recommend keeping youth in the juvenile justice system because it focuses more on rehabilitation and family engagement, and is more likely to take a developmentally appropriate approach than the adult justice system3. Raising the minimum age for juvenile justice system involvement is recommended to prevent the potential harms related to incarceration (e.g., traumatic stress, physical and sexual abuse), reduce barriers to education and employment, and reduce suicide risk for young children4. Raising the maximum age can be more cost-effective by improving youth educational attainment, minimizing reductions in youth human capital, and increasing their future wages and employment opportunities compared to incarceration3, 5, 6. Additional evidence is needed, especially for education and employment outcomes and effects of raising the minimum age7.

RTA’s effects on youth recidivism is mixed7: for RTA-affected youth of ages 16-17, raising the maximum age boundary may increase recidivism8, 9, 10, decrease recidivism3, 11, or have no impact12. Raising the maximum age may not have an impact on juvenile arrests, overall crime rates13, and motor vehicle thefts14. Researchers recommend that RTA evaluations focus on youth attainment of developmental milestones and the effectiveness of rehabilitative programs in juvenile institutions rather than youth recidivism15, 16.

To increase effectiveness of RTA laws, researchers recommend comprehensive system changes for the juvenile justice system and social services1, expanding community-based treatments and programs for juveniles6, especially in rural areas17, and providing adequate funding and resources to respond to increased juvenile caseloads and support for court systems and their staff1, 17, 18. It is recommended that judges in juvenile or family courts, or those that work with youth in the adult system, take a defendant’s full history into consideration. Additionally, standards for hearings to remove youth from the adult court need to be refined to produce more reliable decisions19.

How could this strategy advance health equity? This strategy is rated potential to decrease disparities: suggested by expert opinion.

Raise the Age (RTA) legislation accompanied by a developmentally appropriate juvenile justice system has the potential to reduce the disproportionate impact of justice system involvement on youth of color3. Such positive impact of RTA requires effective practices connecting youth to school and work in a safe system that is designed to meet youth’s developmental needs3.

However, over-policing of Black and Latinx male youth seems to persist after RTA implementation: in New York City, over 90% of youth arrested during the first year of RTA were Black (61%) or Latinx (32%), while the total number of youths arrested decreased23. There is also concern related to the waiver that transfers youth charged with a serious offense to the adult criminal court under the RTA laws6: in 2018, Black youth were more likely to be waived to the criminal court for all offense types than youth of other races24. Equitable policing and unbiased court processing is essential to reduce over-representation of youth of color in the juvenile justice system6, 23.

What is the relevant historical background?

The nation’s first juvenile court was established in Chicago in 1899 and nearly every state established juvenile courts by 1925. The early years of juvenile courts focused on rehabilitation and treatment for youth, not punishment25. However, the physical conditions and treatment in juvenile court facilities were unequal for white youth and youth of color. Large facilities designated for Black youth were not maintained, inappropriately equipped, and provided poor services compared to facilities for white youth26. Starting in the 1960s the number of youth involved in the juvenile justice system grew and juvenile courts changed their procedures to be more like adult criminal courts. States passed stricter laws through the 1990s that focused on punishment and made it easier to move youth younger than 18 into the adult criminal justice system. In the 2000s, state juvenile justice reforms focused on adolescent development and emphasized community-based programs to keep youth out of the adult criminal justice system25. A nationwide move to increase the upper age for juvenile justice processing is based on a desire for developmentally appropriate justice systems and policies for youth8.

Throughout the history of the juvenile justice system in the U.S., youth of color have been overrepresented and racially disparate practices and treatment for youth in the system have persisted. This can be attributed to the history of racial segregation and discrimination in the U.S., the false belief that youth of color are culturally inclined to delinquency, and the systemic and racial policies and practices in the juvenile justice system. Examples of systemic and racist policies and practices include discriminatory policing in communities of color and differential treatment of youth of color at various decision points in juvenile court processes, which lack appropriate assessment tools and cultural competence26. Black, Native, and Hispanic youth have been arrested and involved in the juvenile justice system at disproportionate rates compared to white youth27. The Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDPA), which was reauthorized in 2018, provides federal standards for the care and custody for youth and families involved in the juvenile justice system. One of its four requirements helps states to assess and eliminate racial and ethnic disparities in the juvenile justice system28.

Equity Considerations
  • Which youth are over-represented in the juvenile justice system in your state and local community? What combination of programs and policy changes, including Raise the Age (RTA), can support a safe system designed to meet youth developmental needs and reduce over-representation of youth of color?
  • Is juvenile court processing unbiased and considerate of a youth’s history, family, and social environmental factors? Are decisions made that prioritize developmentally appropriate pathways for youth?
  • Are the treatment and community-based services for youth in the juvenile justice system adequate for their needs and are they equally distributed? Who are potential partners to help provide relevant services or resources to increase access?
Implementation Examples

As of 2023, 47 states and Washington, D.C. have a maximum age of at least 17 for juvenile court jurisdiction: Michigan and New York extend the upper age limit to age 19, and Vermont extends juvenile court jurisdiction to youth under age 20. The maximum age of juvenile court jurisdiction in Georgia, Texas, and Wisconsin is 16; 17-year-old youth in these three states are processed in the adult court system20. In March 2024, Louisiana reversed its 2019 Raise the Age law, re-opening the possibility of charging 17-year-olds as adults21.

As of 2023, 24 states and Washington, D.C. have no minimum age for criminal responsibility. The other 26 states set a minimum age of juvenile court jurisdiction, ranging from ages 7 (Florida) to 13 (Maryland and New Hampshire). Internationally, 14 is the most common minimum age for prosecuting children22.

Implementation Resources

Resources with a focus on equity.

NJJN-RTA - National Juvenile Justice Network (NJJN). Raising the minimum age for prosecuting children.

CFYJ-RTA 2018 - Thomas JM, Mistrett M. Implementing laws to raise the age of juvenile court jurisdiction to 18: What states & localities can do to prepare for success. Washington, D.C.: The Campaign for Youth Justice (CFYJ); 2018.


* Journal subscription may be required for access.

1 NGA 2021 - National Governors Association (NGA). Age boundaries in juvenile justice systems.

2 RSI-Seacrest 2023 - Seacrest L. When it comes to raising the age, one size doesn’t fit all. Washington, D.C.: R Street Institute (RSI); 2023.

3 Justice Policy Institute 2017 - Justice Policy Institute. Raising the age: Shifting to a safer and more effective juvenile justice system. Washington, D.C.: Justice Policy Institute; 2017.

4 NJJN-RTA - National Juvenile Justice Network (NJJN). Raising the minimum age for prosecuting children.

5 Mitchell 2017 - Mitchell DM. Economic costs and benefits of Raise the Age legislation in Missouri. Springfield: Department of Economics, Missouri State University; 2017.

6 Menon 2021 - Menon SE, McCarter SA. Make juvenile justice more just: Raise-the-age to 20 years old. Journal of policy practice and research. 2021;2:119-139.

7 OJJDP-DSG 2024 - Development Services Group, Inc. (DSG). Age boundaries of the juvenile justice system. Literature review: A product of the Model programs Guide. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP); 2024.

8 Loeffler 2022 - Loeffler CE, Braga AA. Estimating the effects of shrinking the criminal justice system on criminal recidivism. Criminology and Public Policy. 2022;21(3):595-617.

9 Robinson 2019a - Robinson K, Kurlychek M. Differences in justice, differences in outcomes: A DID approach to studying outcomes in juvenile and adult court processing. Justice Evaluation Journal. 2019;2(1):35-49.

10 CJA 2021 - Gewirtz M. Re-arrest among 16 year-olds arrested in the first year of Raise the Age. New York: New York City Criminal Justice Agency (CJA); 2021.

11 Fowler 2018 - Fowler E, Kurlychek MC. Drawing the line: Empirical recidivism results from a natural experiment raising the age of criminal responsibility. Youth Violence and Juvenile Justice. 2018;16(3):263-278.

12 Loeffler 2015 - Loeffler CE, Grunwald B. Decriminalizing delinquency: The effect of raising the age of majority on juvenile recidivism. Journal of Legal Studies. 2015;44(2):361-388.

13 Loeffler 2017 - Loeffler CE, Chalfin A. Estimating the crime effects of raising the age of majority: Evidence from Connecticut. Criminology and Public Policy. 2017;16(1):45-71.

14 Circo 2020 - Circo G, Scranton A. Did Connecticut’s “Raise the Age” increase motor vehicle thefts? Criminal Justice Policy Review. 2020;31(8):1217-1233.

15 Cauffman 2017 - Cauffman E, Donley S, Thomas A. Raising the age: Raising the issues. Criminology and Public Policy. 2017;16(1):73-81.

16 Farrington 2017 - Farrington DP, Loeber R, Howell JC. Increasing the minimum age for adult court: Is it desirable, and what are the effects? Criminology and Public Policy. 2017;16(1):83-92.

17 Collins 2022 - Collins AM, Cooper MN. Raise the Age: Perceptions of Missouri juvenile justice actors. Missouri Policy Journal. 2022;12:1-14.

18 Black 2020 - Black H. Raising the age and raising the budget: Why North Carolina’s juvenile justice reinvestment act requires full funding. The Wake Forest Law Review. 2020;10:86-106.

19 MI-Halpern 2023 - Halpern WD. Reforming “Raise the Age”. New York: Manhattan Institute (MI); 2023.

20 RSI-Seacrest 2023a - Seacrest L. Treating kids like kids: “Raise the Age” laws align juvenile justice with neuroscience and common sense. Washington, D.C.: R Street Institute (RSI); 2023.

21 RSI-Seacrest 2024 - Seacrest L. Bipartisan consensus on juvenile justice crumbles in Louisiana. Washington, D.C.: R Street Institute (RSI); 2024.

22 NJJN-Brief 2023 - National Juvenile Justice Network (NJJN). Brief: Charting U.S. minimum ages of jurisdiction, detention, and commitment. Washington, D.C.: National Juvenile Justice Network; 2023.

23 YJRC 2020 - Youth Justice Research Collaborative (YJRC). Evaluating the implementation of Raise the Age in New York City. 2020.

24 OJJDP-Hockenberry 2021 - Hockenberry S. Delinquency cases waived to criminal court, 2018. Juvenile Justice Statistics. Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP), Office of Justice Programs; U.S. Department of Justice; 2021.

25 NCJJ-Puzzanchera 2022 - Puzzanchera C, Hockenberry S, Sickmund M. Youth and the juvenile justice system: 2022 National report. Pittsburgh, PA: National Center for Juvenile Justice (NCJJ); 2022.

26 NCTSN-Lacey 2013 - Lacey C. Racial disparities and the juvenile justice system: A legacy of trauma. Los Angeles, CA & Durham, NC: National Center for Child Traumatic Stress (NCTSN); 2013.

27 OJJDP-R/ED 2022 - Development Services Group, Inc. Racial and ethnic disparity (R/ED) in juvenile justice processing. Washington, D.C.: Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP); 2022.

28 CJJ-JJDPA - Coalition for Juvenile Justice (CJJ). Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDPA).