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Practice Profile

Juvenile Transfer to Adult Court

Evidence Ratings for Outcomes:

No Effects - One Meta-Analysis Crime & Delinquency - Multiple crime/offense types

Practice Description

Practice Goals/Target Population
All states have laws that that allow for juveniles under 18 to be transferred for prosecution in the adult criminal court system, even though their cases usually fall under the jurisdiction of the juvenile court. Transferring juveniles to adult court is based on the belief that some juveniles cannot be sufficiently punished in juvenile court or helped by rehabilitative efforts of the juvenile justice system. Juvenile transfer laws tend to focus on juveniles who commit serious and violent offenses.
Practice Components
There are three primary mechanisms in place that allow for the transfer of juveniles to adult criminal court: judicial waivers, statutory exclusion, and prosecutorial direct-file (Griffin et al. 2011).
Judicial waivers allow the decision to transfer juveniles to reside solely with the judge. After a case is filed in juvenile court, the judge can decide whether to waive (i.e., transfer) the case to adult court following a formal hearing. All states set minimum thresholds or requirements that must be met for a case to be waived to adult court, but the decision is usually based on the discretion of the judge, who can consider a variety of factors such as age, mental capacity, maturity, prior delinquency, chances for rehabilitation, and the nature of the current offense.
Statutory exclusion is a legislative mechanism that allows for the automatic transfer of juveniles to adult court if they are charged with certain violent and serious offenses (such as murder). These cases bypass the juvenile court system entirely, and are filed in adult criminal courts; the adult courts then have exclusive jurisdiction over the juvenile’s case.

Prosecutorial direct-file allows the decision to transfer juveniles to reside with the prosecutor. The case may be filed in either juvenile court or adult criminal court. There is usually no formal hearing to determine which court may be appropriate to handle a juvenile’s case, and there are generally no formal standards or requirements. It is up to the discretion of the prosecutor whether to waive a case involving a juvenile into adult court.
Practice Theory
There are two main rationales behind juvenile transfers. First, juvenile transfers to adult court serve as a general deterrent, by treating all juveniles charged with certain violent offenses as adults to reduce overall juvenile crime. Juvenile transfers also serve as a specific deterrent by reducing recidivism among juveniles transferred to adult court. The perceived deterrent effect assumes that juvenile courts are perceived as too lenient or incapable of treating serious offenders, whereas adult courts issue stronger punishments and can handle serious criminality (Myers 2003).

Meta-Analysis Outcomes

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No Effects - One Meta-Analysis Crime & Delinquency - Multiple crime/offense types
Pooling the results from nine studies, Zane, Welsh, and Mears (2016) found an overall weighted odds ratio of 1.18, meaning that youths transferred to adult court had slightly higher odds of recidivating, compared with nontransferred youths. However, this result was nonsignificant.
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Meta-Analysis Methodology

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Meta-Analysis Snapshot
 Literature Coverage DatesNumber of StudiesNumber of Study Participants
Meta-Analysis 11996 - 2013912325

Meta-Analysis 1
Zane, Welsh, and Mears (2016) conducted a meta-analysis to examine the specific deterrent effects of juvenile transfer on recidivism. The following criteria were used to determine if studies could be included: 1) studies had to focus on juvenile transfer (also called judicial waiver, prosecutorial direct-file, or statutory exclusion); 2) studies had to measure recidivism (defined as postdispositional rearrests, readjudications, or reconvictions of juvenile offenders); 3) the sample had to consist of juveniles who had committed offenses, with the comparison between transferred and nontransferred juveniles; and 4) studies had to have a high-quality research design, with a minimum design involving a quasi-experimental approach. A comprehensive search strategy was used to locate eligible studies.  

A comprehensive search was conducted to located eligible studies. A total of 600 references related to the research project were identified. Of these, 164 were found to be potentially relevant. Of the 164, 143 were excluded for various reasons. A full-text screening was conducted on the remaining 21 studies to determine if they met the eligibility criteria. Twelve studies were excluded because they did not meet the criteria. In the end, a total of nine studies were identified for inclusion in the analysis. 
Across the nine studies, the sample size of treatment groups (transferred juveniles) was 6,150, and the sample size of the comparison groups (nontransferred juveniles) was 6,175. The studies took place across the United States, including New York, New Jersey, Florida, Pennsylvania, Arizona, Minnesota, and Washington. The ages of juveniles ranged from 14 to 17. No other demographic characteristics were provided. All the studies used quasi-experimental designs of varying methodological rigor. The types of transfer methods varied across the studies. Four studies looked at juvenile defendants who were transferred to adult criminal court via statutory exclusion, two studies examined juvenile cases transferred to adult court by judicial waiver, and the other three studies looked at multiple methods of transfer. 
Study effect sizes were weighted by the variance of the effect size and the size of the study sample. The main measure of effect sizes was the odds ratio.
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There is no cost information available for this practice.
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Other Information

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Zane, Welsh, and Mears (2016) included additional tests—called moderator analyses—to see if any other factors impacted the education-related outcomes. Specifically, the authors looked at the impact of the transfer mechanism (i.e., statutory exclusion, judicial waiver, or other methods of transfer such as prosecutorial direct-file). The results showed that statutory exclusion and other methods of transfer had no significant effect on the odds of transferred youths recidivating. However, the results showed a significant effect of judicial waiver (odds ratio = 2.09), which suggests that judicial waiver of juvenile offenders to adult court may increase recidivism of transferred youths, compared with nontransferred youths.
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Evidence-Base (Meta-Analyses Reviewed)

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These sources were used in the development of the practice profile:

Meta-Analysis 1
Zane, Steven N., Brandon C. Welsh, and Daniel P. Mears. 2016. “Juvenile Transfer and the Specific Deterrence Hypothesis: Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis.” Criminology & Public Policy 15(3):1–25.
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Additional References

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These sources were used in the development of the practice profile:

Griffin, Patrick, Sean Addie, Benjamin Adams, and Kathy Firestine. 2011. Trying Juveniles as Adults: An Analysis of State Transfer Laws and Reporting. National Report Services Bulletin. Washington, D.C.: Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention.

Jordan, Kareem L. 2012. “Juvenile Transfer and Recidivism: A Propensity Score Matching Approach.” Journal of Crime and Justice 35(1): 53–67.

Myers, David L. 2003. “The Recidivism of Violent Youth in Juvenile and Adult Court: A Consideration of Selection Bias.” Youth Violence and Juvenile Justice 1(1): 79–101. 
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Related Programs

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Following are programs that are related to this practice:

Juvenile Transfer to Adult Court (Pennsylvania) No Effects - More than one study
Transfer of serious and violent juveniles from juvenile court to adult court based on criteria, such as age, seriousness of offense, and use of a deadly weapon. The program is rated No Effects. The preponderance of the evidence suggests that transferring juveniles to adult court had no impact on measures of arrests.
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Practice Snapshot

Age: 14 - 17

Gender: Both

Targeted Population: Serious/Violent Offender, Young Offenders

Settings: Courts

Practice Type: Court Processing, General deterrence, Specific deterrence

Unit of Analysis: Persons