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Juvenile Transfer Laws: An Effective Deterrent to Delinquency?

NCJ Number
Date Published
June 2010
12 pages
This paper reports on studies that have examined the deterrent effect of juvenile transfer laws, i.e., laws that require the transfer of juveniles charged with specified crimes from processing in juvenile court to adult criminal court.
The author concludes that the bulk of the empirical evidence suggests that transfer laws, as currently implemented, probably have little general deterrent effect on would-be juvenile offenders. Transfer laws have produced the unintended effect of increasing recidivism for juveniles who have been transferred, thereby promoting life-course criminality. Experts have identified several possible explanations for the higher recidivism rates of violent juvenile offenders tried in criminal court compared to those adjudicated in juvenile court. These include the stigmatization and other negative effects of labeling juveniles as convicted felons; the sense of resentment and injustice juveniles feel about being tried and punished as adults; the learning of criminal values and behavior while incarcerated with adult offenders; and the decreased focus on rehabilitation and family support in the adult system. A felony conviction also results in the loss of a number of civil rights and privileges, further reducing the opportunities for employment and community reintegration. These findings suggest that educating judges, prosecutors, court personnel, and legislators about the research on the ineffectiveness of transfer laws may reduce the number of cases transferred to criminal court or the number of transferred cases that result in criminal sanctions. The studies reviewed for this paper were recently funded by the U.S. Justice Department’s Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. In addition to discussing the research findings regarding the effectiveness of these laws in deterring serious juvenile crime, this paper also reviews the rationale and content of State juvenile transfer laws. 5 notes and 66 references

Date Published: June 1, 2010