If you’re 17 years old and arrested for a crime, where you go depends mostly on what state you happen to live in. Although prosecutors and judges are usually able to pull teenagers out of the juvenile court system and charge them as adults if the crime is severe enough, nine states automatically classify 17-year-olds as adults. In North Carolina and New York, 16-year-olds always face adult courts.
But these states are the holdouts. In the last few years, Illinois, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Mississippi, Rhode Island and Connecticut have raised the age of who is automatically considered an adult by the criminal justice system to 18. Plenty of policymakers still believe that certain individuals merit adult prison time no matter their age, but as a matter of blanket policy, lawmakers are increasingly setting the age of adult “criminal responsibility” at 18, citing the fact that adolescent brains are still developing at age 17 — and continue developing well into the 20s — and that these youths are particularly vulnerable to abuse in adult prisons