CrimProf Blog

Editor: Kevin Cole
Univ. of San Diego School of Law

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Juvenile Transfers A Deterrent?

Beginning in the 1980s, many States passed legal reforms designed to get tough on juvenile crime. One important reform was the revision of transfer (also called waiver or certification) laws (Griffin, 2003) to expand the types of offenses and offenders eligible for transfer from the juvenile court for trial and sentencing in the adult criminal court These reforms lowered the minimum age for transfer, increased the number of transfer-eligible offenses, or expanded prosecutorial discretion and reduced judicial discretion in transfer decisionmaking (Fagan and Zimring, 2000; Redding, 2003, 2005). In 1979, for example, 14 States had automatic transfer statutes requiring that certain juvenile offenders be tried as adults; by 1995, 21 States had such laws, and by 2003, 31 States (Steiner and Hemmens, 2003)

In addition, the age at which juvenile court jurisdiction ends was lowered to 15 or 16 years in 13 States (see Snyder and Sickmund, 2006), although very recently, some States have reduced the scope of transfer laws (Bishop, 2004), and one State has raised the age at which juvenile court jurisdiction ends from 16 to 18. In the wake of these legislative changes, the number of youth convicted of felonies in criminal courts and incarcerated in adult correctional facilities has increased (Redding, 2003), reaching a peak in the mid-1990s and then declining somewhat (Snyder and Sickmund, 2006) due, in part, to the decrease in juvenile crime. An estimated 4,100 youth were committed to State adult prisons in 1999, representing 1 percent of new prison commitments (Snyder and Sickmund, 2006). Sixty-one percent of these youth were incarcerated for person offenses, 23 percent for property offenses, 9 percent for drug offenses, and 5 percent for public order offenses (e.g., weapons possession) (Snyder and Sickmund, 2006). Transferred juveniles, particularly those convicted of violent offenses, typically receive longer sentences than those sentenced in the juvenile court for similar crimes (Bishop, 2000; Kupchik, Fagan, and Liberman, 2003; Myers, 2005; Virginia Department of Criminal Justice Services, 1996). But, they may be released on bail for a considerable period of time while they await trial in the criminal court (Myers, 2005), and many youth incarcerated in adult facilities serve no longer than the maximum time they would have served in a juvenile facility (Bishop, 2000; Fritsch, Caeti, and Hemmens, 1996; Myers, 2001). [Mark Godsey]

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