The United States Must Address the Issue with the Minimum Age of Criminal Responsibility


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The U.S. is the only advanced nation that has not set a minimum age of juvenile court jurisdiction below which children cannot be arrested or taken to court.[1] Furthermore, most U.S. states do not have a set minimum age of prosecution in juvenile courts. There are 22 U.S. states and territories that do have specific minimum ages for delinquency adjudication:

  • California and Massachusetts have a minimum age of 12 by statute
  • Nebraska has a minimum age of 11 by statute
  • Fifteen states / territories have a minimum age of 10 by statute: American Samoa, Arkansas, Arizona, Colorado, Kansas, Louisiana, Minnesota, Mississippi, Nevada, North Dakota, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Texas, Vermont, and Wisconsin
  • Washington state has a minimum age of 8.
  • Connecticut and New York have a minimum age of 7
  • North Carolina has a minimum age of 6 [2]

All the U.S. states that do have a minimum age for delinquency adjudication are below the international standard. The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) does not have a specified age of criminal responsibility, but the most common minimum age of criminal responsibility in States parties that have ratified the CRC is 14.[3]

The U.S. states with the highest set minimum age of delinquency adjudication is set at age 12. Evidence in the field of child development indicates that children who are 12 and 13 years old are still evolving in areas of maturity and the capacity of abstract reasoning. Therefore, it is unlikely they understand the impact of their actions or comprehend criminal proceedings. Children under the age of 14 are not culpable for their behavior in the same way as adults or older adolescents.[4]

Without having an appropriate minimum age standard in the U.S., the procedures for determining which young children are mature enough for formal court processing have proven inconsistent and discriminatory.[5]

Entering children into the juvenile justice system is traumatic and can lead to damaging collateral consequences, such as:

  • Barriers to education and employment,
  • Fines and fees,
  • Risk to immigration status,
  • Physical and sexual abuse,
  • Suicide, and
  • Disruptions to mental and physical development that incarcerated children experience [6]

The U.S. needs to implement an acceptable minimum age standard in order to reduce these drastic consequences for children that may not be criminally culpable for their actions and ensure children receive just punishments for their actions.


[1] https://yclj.org/minimum-age

[2] https://njdc.info/practice-policy-resources/state-profiles/multi-jurisdiction-data/minimum-age-for-delinquency-adjudication-multi-jurisdiction-survey/

[3] Committee on the Rights of the Child, General comment No. 24 (2019) on children’s rights in the child justice system

[4] https://yclj.org/minimum-age

[5] https://yclj.org/minimum-age

[6] https://www.njjn.org/our-work/raising-the-minimum-age-for-prosecuting-children

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