There are many good reasons for revisiting laws that make it too easy to try children as adults, the best being perhaps that it leads to higher recidivism rates when youth are released. Youth tried as adults are more likely to commit crimes upon release, they commit them sooner and their crimes are more violent. But another reason is that it creates too big a punishment gap between juvenile and adult court, a gap which gives prosecutors too much power to coerce guilty pleas from innocent suspects. One way to solve this problem is to take the decision of whether to transfer a minor out of the hands of prosecutors (whose decisions are unreviewable) and place it into the hands of judges. For those who are still transferred, the idea of “youth discounts” for juveniles sentenced in adult court, an automatic reduction of sentences for juvenile offenders which makes the court take their youth as a mitigating factor, is critical in reducing the punishment gap between juvenile and adult court, a gap which gives prosecutors too much power in plea negotiations and gives too strong an incentive for innocents to plead guilty. Such discounts would also except juveniles from life without parole, mandatory minimum sentences, and “truth in sentencing” schemes which have exacerbated the punishment gap between juvenile and adult sentencing. For juveniles sent to adult court, there must also be an opportunity to send the juvenile back to the court for trial sentencing — “a reverse waiver” option.
Steven Drizin is a Clinical Professor at Northwestern Law School and expert on false confessions. From here