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State revisits how to handle young adults who commit crimes

Thomas Hawk/Flickr

The criminal justice system has long treated juveniles who commit crimes differently than adults. Now, research suggests young adults ages 18 to 25 should receive different treatment, as well, and the state is reviewing whether it will make that distinction.

The push to distinguish between young adults and older adults in criminal justice is based on brain research that says the former haven't fully reached adulthood: physically, financially or emotionally. Increasingly, many people are reaching milestones later in life, such as getting married and establishing careers, says Columbia University researcher Lael E.H. Chester.

“That’s important because those are also elements that we know are helpful to steer people away from crime,” said Chester, the director of the Emerging Adult Project, which strives to inform effective justice responses that advance successful paths to adulthood. 

Chester recently spoke to a Washington legislative committee that’s looking into possible changes in how the state deals with 18- to 25-year-olds who commit crimes. Other states have set up special courts to deal with that age group, and some have allowed young adults to be charged the same as juveniles for certain crimes.

Paula is a former host, reporter and producer who retired from KNKX in 2021. She joined the station in 1989 as All Things Considered host and covered the Law and Justice beat for 15 years. Paula grew up in Idaho and, prior to KNKX, worked in public radio and television in Boise, San Francisco and upstate New York.
Kari Plog is a former KNKX reporter who covered the people and systems in Pierce, Thurston and Kitsap counties, with an emphasis on police accountability.