Do Juvenile Offenders in Adult Criminal Court Really Do 'Adult Time?': An Interjurisdictional Investigation of State Juvenile Transfer Laws & Sentencing Outcomes

Project: Research project

Project Details


The get tough policies of the 1990s resulted in an unprecedented number of juveniles being transferred and sentenced in adult courts. To date there has been a great deal of research devoted to describing the population of youth transferred to adult court; however, significantly less attention has been devoted to understanding the adult court outcomes of this population. The current research is designed to further understanding in this area. More specifically, this research constructs an inter-jurisdictional dataset comprised of administrative data from six states which maintain different definitions of adulthood for criminal justice processing. These six states were selected to be representative of the pathways in which juveniles reach adult court in the United States. Using this dataset, this research will test theories of adult court decision-making to predict how juvenile status may act as an aggravating or mitigating factor at sentencing. The study is framed within the larger debate concerning the role of discretion in criminal justice outcomes, taking into consideration the various mechanisms of juvenile transfer and the discretion permitted to different system actors, including the juvenile court judge, the prosecutor, and the state legislature. This research also addresses the relative importance of various legal, extra-legal, and contextual factors in the application of discretion in sentencing outcomes.

Because all 50 states maintain mechanisms to process youth as adults, the results of this study will be of national interest. The study also represents the first inter-jurisdictional analysis of this issue, and will therefore demonstrate greater generalizability than any available research in the field. Moreover, as the research encompasses all major pathways through which juveniles reach adult courts, this study will be the first to allow for a direct comparison of the mechanisms associated with juvenile adjudication in this context.

Effective start/end date10/1/119/30/13


  • National Science Foundation: $59,579.00


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