U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government, Department of Justice.

Prosecuting Adolescents in Criminal Courts: Criminal or Juvenile Justice?

NCJ Number
Social Problems Volume: 50 Issue: 3 Dated: August 2003 Pages: 439-460
Date Published
August 2003
22 pages

This study analyzed how court actors mobilize models of justice to shape the court proceedings when adolescents are prosecuted in adult criminal court.


During the past 20 years, States have revised their laws to facilitate the transfer of adolescents out of juvenile courts and into adult criminal courts. However, when adolescents are prosecuted in adult criminal courts, there is a potential tension between the juvenile model of justice, which rests on a rehabilitative format, and the criminal model of justice, which focuses on punishment in proportion to the offense. Despite the increasing frequency of the transfer of adolescents to adult criminal court, little is known about how court actors prescribe accountability to adolescents in these adult courts. As such, the author drew on observational research in a specialized criminal court that prosecutes adolescents and on interviews with courtroom decisionmakers to analyze how this incongruity of justice models is overcome. The analysis revealed that courtroom actors divide the court proceedings into two phases: the initial phase follows the traditional criminal justice model while the sentencing phase follows the juvenile justice model. In this way, a hybrid form of justice is created that relies on a sequential justice model to prosecute adolescents in adult criminal court. This study produced unique results in that the author argued that the model of justice followed in these types of cases is dependent upon the stage of case processing. The results falsify the repeated hypothesis that adolescents who are transferred to adult criminal court face a criminal model of justice. Future research should expand this line of inquiry to different jurisdictions. References

Date Published: August 1, 2003