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Factors Involved in Juvenile Judges' Decision-Making for First-Time Offenders

NCJ Number
Jamie J. Fader M.A.; Philip W. Harris Ph.D.; Peter R. Jones Ph.D.; Mary Poulin M.A.
Date Published
31 pages
This paper focuses on judicial dispositional decision-making for first-time juvenile offenders, comparing the explanatory impact of factors traditionally included in this type of analysis to variables that describe child and family functioning.
Using data derived from a subsample (n=1,355) of ProDES (Program Development and Evaluation System), an outcome evaluation system that tracks youth in Philadelphia's juvenile justice system, the authors used logistic regression to compare the relative effects of child and family functioning on the likelihood of placement in in-home versus out-of-home settings. The data show that half of all first-time juvenile offenders committed to programs were removed from their homes and placed in more restrictive settings. In recent years, juvenile judges in Pennsylvania have been instructed to make decisions that address the needs of the child, the victim, and the community, emphasizing victim restitution and community restoration. Yet, these findings show that juvenile judges in Philadelphia are informing their placement decisions for first-time offenders with available information about the needs of the child and his/her family, using their power as agents of the child welfare system. Only as the history of offenses escalates do factors such as child and family functioning take a back seat to concerns over public safety. Despite recent changes in juvenile justice legislation and the increasing public disfavor regarding "rehabilitation," the capacity of the court to continue focusing on the best interests of the child suggests a resilience in the parents patriae perspective. 4 tables, 12 notes, and 50 references