Sunday, January 13, 2013
Transfer of Juveniles to Adult Court:Study The Effects Of
Transfer of Juveniles to Adult Court: Effects of a Broad Policy in One Court Edward P. Mulvey and Carol A. Schubert Highlights This bulletin presents findings from the Pathways to Desistance study about the effects of transfer from juvenile court to adult court on a sample of serious adolescent offenders in Maricopa County, AZ. The authors compare the extant literature with findings from the Pathways study and discuss the possible implications of these findings for future changes in transfer statutes. Following are some key points: • Adolescents in the adult system may be at risk for disruptions in their personal development, identity formation, relationships, learning, growth in skills and competencies, and positive movement into adult status. • Most of the youth in the study who were sent to adult facilities returned to the community within a few years, varying widely in their levels of adjustment. Youth were more likely to successfully adjust when they were not influenced by antisocial peers. • Prior work indicates that transferred youth are more likely to commit criminal acts than adolescents kept in the juvenile justice system. • Findings from the Pathways study indicate that transfer may have a differential effect (either reducing or increasing offending), depending on the juvenile’s presenting offense and prior offense history. Transfer to adult court indicates that the demand for proportional punishment has trumped the goal of individualized rehabilitation found in the juvenile justice system (Zimring, 2005). Since the court’s inception, juvenile justice policymakers and professionals have wrestled with the decision about when to transfer an adolescent to adult court (Tanenhaus, 2004). Currently, individual states have combinations of statutorily defined mechanisms for determining when the movement of a juvenile case to adult court is required or appropriate, including procedures such as judicial transfer, certification, automatic waiver, or direct file (Griffin, 2003; Fagan and Zimring, 2000). In general, state statutes define a set of crimes for adolescent offenders of a certain age that warrant processing in the adult system (i.e., a statutory exclusion from the presumed jurisdiction of the juvenile court). Most states also have a mechanism (e.g., decertification, reverse waiver) for returning the case to the jurisdiction of the juvenile court when deemed appropriate. (See Sickmund, 1994; Griffin, 2006; and Redding, 2008, for an elaboration of these statutory provisions.) During the late 1980s and early 1990s, however, a sharp rise in violent crime produced intense interest in the causes of juvenile crime and the effectiveness of the juvenile justice system. Juvenile arrests for violent offenses jumped dramatically during this time period, increasing 64 percent nationally between 1980 and 1994 (Butts and Travis, 2002). In addition, some highly publicized cases of juveniles committing repeated, serious violent offenses contributed to public perception that the juvenile justice system was inadequate to intervene effectively with adolescents who were a legitimate threat to public safety (Butterfield, 1995). These forces even prompted radical, and ultimately unfounded, rhetoric about a coming wave of adolescent “superpredators” unlike any previous juvenile offenders in their heartlessness and lack of response to interventions (DiIulio, 1995). It is generally believed that these statutory reforms produced an increase in the rate of transfer, at least in a large number of locales (Fagan, 2008; Penney and Moretti, 2005). However, it is difficult to gauge the specific effects of these changes because of the lack of comprehensive and consistent data about transferred adolescent offenders. No systematic national count of the number of youth who are transferred or waived to criminal court exists, nor are there consistent data on the characteristics of these adolescents across locales. The National Center for Juvenile Justice tracks judicial transfers made at the discretion of juvenile court judges. These figures show a clear decline in adolescent transfers using this mechanism, presumably because other statutory mechanisms have increased their rate of transfer (Adams and Addie, 2010). However, no accurate tallies of the total number of transfers across all possible mechanisms exists. The sources for estimating the number of adolescents in adult prisons or jails on any given day or during any given period of time are also inconsistent (Woolard et al., 2005). According to available data, the number and proportion of adolescents in adult prisons appear to have peaked in the mid-1990s (about 5,000 prisoners, or 2.3 percent of the total prison population, according to Hartney, 2006) and to have fallen since then to less than 3,000, or 1.2 percent, in 2004 (Hartney, 2006; see Austin, Johnson, and Gregoriou, 2000, for somewhat larger estimates for the mid-1990s). Estimates of the number of adolescents in adult jails on any given day are considerably greater, ranging from about 7,000 (Hartney, 2006) to 19,000 (Austin, Johnson, and Gregoriou, 2000)—about 1 in 10 youth incarcerated in the United States are admitted to an adult prison or jail (Eggleston, 2007). In addition, little is actually known about outcomes for adolescent offenders who are transferred to the adult system. The Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) funded a recent study to compile available information about the number of adolescents who were transferred across a range of locales and the subsequent sanctions these individuals received. Study results are anticipated in 2012 and are expected to be “the best national estimates ever, Despite the lack of definitive numeric estimates, it is reasonable to assume that the changes in transfer statutes have led to an increase in the heterogeneity of the youth sent to adult court in many locales (Schubert et al., 2010). That is, expansions of the transfer statutes and an increased reliance on the presenting offense have made it easier for the adult court to process a broader range of adolescents; these adolescents likely differ widely in their prior legal involvement, developmental status (because there is now a wider age span for youth who are eligible for transfer), and specific risk factors related to offending. In general, researchers believe that the group of adolescents now transferred to adult court includes “a broad range of offenders who are neither particularly serious nor particularly chronic” (Bishop and Frazier, 2000, p. 265). Longer Sentences One potentially harmful outcome for transferred adolescent offenders is a longer or harsher sentence than they might have experienced if they had remained in the juvenile justice system. Both sides of the political spectrum seem to believe that this is the case. Those in favor of “get tough” policies promote long sentences for youth and see transfer to the adult system as a method to achieve this end. Meanwhile, those opposing adult sentences for juveniles imply that transfer to adult court produces long confinement in an adult facility. Disruptions in Development In addition to the immediate physical and psychological dangers resulting from incarceration, adolescents transferred to the adult system can also experience harmful disruptions in their development during late adolescence and early adulthood. Adolescent offenders can be assumed to be particularly diverse, and potentially delayed, in many aspects of social development (Monahan et al., 2009). Also, considerable evidence exists that prison and jail environments present challenges to one’s sense of self and identity that even hardened criminals find disorienting, upsetting, and traumatic. Particularly vulnerable adolescents are thus taking the next steps of their developmental journey in an environment that does not promote physical or emotional health and that may harm their progress as well. Although an adolescent and an adult might receive what appears to be an equivalent sentence for a similar crime (e.g., 3 years for a felony assault), adolescents are paying for their crimes at a different point in their life journey; the impact of this experience may be more dramatic as a result. Identity formation is one of the most salient processes of adolescent development that incarceration might affect. To fashion a sense of self (i.e., to figure out who one is in relation to family and others, as well as what one’s future might hold), most adolescents follow a pattern of individuating from parents, orienting toward peers, and integrating components of attitudes and behavior into an autonomous self-identity (Collins and Steinberg, 2006) Adolescents in the adult system also often lose critical opportunities for learning in late adolescence. By definition, adolescence marks the transition period between childhood and adulthood during which an individual progresses toward adult levels of responsibility and adult roles. Adolescents gradually take greater control over an expanding range of life decisions; they also make mistakes, pick up pointers, and learn lessons along the way. According to Zimring (2005), during this period adolescents are operating with a “learner’s permit” for developing maturity; they are generally under the watchful eye of caring individuals and are afforded more tolerance from society for making bad choices. Learning about job-related expectations, gaining résumé-building skills, discovering qualities in a potential life partner, learning how to spend unstructured time, and learning to manage a household are not easily acquired behavioral repertoires—they require some trial and error. The regimented and highly structured schedules and restrictions in jail and prison environments, however, at best reduce opportunities to develop lasting romantic relationships, identify career interests, or develop work skills. Even the most progressive of these environments (e.g., specialized young adult offender programs) cannot provide experiences as broad as those provided to unconfined youth.