The vast majority of minors who are tried as adults in New Jersey courts are black and Latino, a study published Monday by WNYC radio found. The report said that 692 minors were tried as adults in New Jersey over the last five years and nearly 90 percent of them were black or Latino.
While not all of the minors who were charged as adults went to prison, WNYC found that 152 inmates who were tried as adults are still currently in adult prisons for crimes they committed when they were children, the youngest were 14 years old when they were initially charged. Of those, 93 percent are black or Latino. Two of the inmates are female.
In New Jersey – along with the other 49 states – it’s legal for juveniles to be tried as adults on charges of drug trafficking, robbery and homicide. In 2008, 2,283 minors were serving sentences in adult state prisons, according to an analysis by the Bureau of Justice Statistics. In 2014, the department said there were more than 1.5 million people – including juveniles – in state prisons, 38 percent of which were black males and 21 percent were Hispanic males.
In New Jersey, minors can only be tried as adults with the request of a prosecutor, and the request must be approved by a judge. Some prosecutors’ request black and latino minors to be tried as adults more than others, and some county judges in New Jersey were more likely to grant requests to try black minors as adults more than white or Latino minors. In Passaic County, for example, 78 percent of the requests to try black minors as adults are granted.
Laura Cohen, director of Rutgers Law School’s Criminal and Youth Justice Clinic in New Jersey, told WNYC prosecutors take into account the nature of offense, a defendant’s family background and educational history when requesting minors to be tried as adults, but the “significant disparities” regarding minors in prison “cannot be explained by anything other than race.”