Young offenders who commit certain crimes in New Jersey — like homicide, robbery, or drug trafficking — can be tried as adults and face the same, long prison sentences as adults.
But getting “waived up” into the adult system does not happen unless a prosecutor requests it. According to an analysis by WNYC, most of the requests for “waiving up” are for young African-Americans. Data from the New Jersey Administrative Office of the Court shows 692 minors, almost 90 percent of whom are black or Latino, were tried as adults in the past five years in New Jersey.
The prosecutor in each county has to request that a minor be tried as an adult and a judge has to approve it. WNYC analysis found that in some counties, like Passaic, judges are twice as likely to approve requests for “waiving up” African-American minors as for white or Latino minors.
The only prosecutor in the state who has not sought to try a minor as an adult in the past five years is in Hunterdon County, where the juvenile population is 80 percent white.
“There are obvious disparities and gross disparities in the exercise of discretion to seek a waiver,” said Laura Cohen, the director of the Criminal and Youth Justice Clinic at Rutgers Law School.
Listen to the full story on WNYC News, a content partner of NJ Spotlight.