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Program Profile: Juvenile Transfer to Adult Court (Pennsylvania)

Evidence Rating: No Effects - More than one study No Effects - More than one study

Date: This profile was posted on March 02, 2015

Program Summary

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.

Program Description

Program Goals
State-legislated transferring or waiving of serious and violent juveniles to adult court began in response to nationwide concern over growing youth violence in the mid-1990s. At the time, the decision to transfer juveniles to adult court was based on a combination of prosecutorial discretion, judicial discretion, and state law. In order to address public and policymakers’ concerns, many states enacted or revised their juvenile transfer criteria, such that juveniles who were charged with certain violent offenses were automatically transferred to adult court (Myers 2003; Jordan 2012).

Program Components
Prior to the mid-1990s, Pennsylvania law allowed for both judicial waiver to adult court and statutory exclusion of certain offenses from juvenile court. Judicial waiver to adult court was based on the judge’s discretion as to whether the juvenile was still amenable to treatment offered in juvenile court. Judges considered age, mental capacity, maturity, degree of criminal sophistication, prior delinquency, prior treatment experience, chances for rehabilitation, and the nature of the current offense when making juvenile waiver decisions. Juveniles charged with murder and those previously found guilty of a misdemeanor or felony in adult court were the only offenders legislatively waived to adult court jurisdiction.

In 1995, in response to the growing concern over juvenile offending, Pennsylvania legislation modified the Commonwealth’s Juvenile Act (Act 33). The modified Act 33 went into effect in March 1996 and excluded from juvenile courts any juveniles between the ages of 15 and 18 who were charged with murder or a violent offense (rape, involuntary deviate sexual intercourse, aggravated assault, robbery, robbery of a motor vehicle, aggravated indecent assault, kidnapping, voluntary manslaughter, or an attempt, conspiracy, or solicitation to commit any of these offenses); and used a deadly weapon during the offense. Additionally, the act excluded from juvenile court any juveniles who had been previously adjudicated delinquent of any of the aforementioned offenses, except for aggravated assault.

Once juveniles are formally charged with an Act 33 offense, they are automatically processed in the adult justice system. Charged juvenile offenders bypass the juvenile court completely, thereby removing juvenile court judges’ authority to waive a case to adult court or keep the case in the juvenile system. However, the act allows juveniles to request a hearing in order to decertify or reverse the waiver to transfer them back to juvenile court, if the juveniles establish, by a preponderance of the evidence, that the transfer would serve the public interest.

Program 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 in order 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 is based on the assumption 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).

Evaluation Outcomes

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Myers (2003) and Jordan (2012) found inconsistent results when examining the impact of transferring juveniles charged with violent offenses to adult courts in Pennsylvania. While the results from the study by Myers (2003) suggest that transferring juveniles to adult courts could have a potentially harmful effect on juveniles, by increasing their likelihood of recidivating, the results from the study by Jordan (2012) suggest that juveniles transferred to adult courts had lower recidivism rates compared with those juveniles processed in juvenile courts.

Study 1
Arrest
Myers (2003) found that juveniles transferred to the adult courts were significantly more likely to be rearrested post-disposition than juveniles retained in juvenile courts.

Violent Felony Arrest
There were no significant differences on violent felony arrests between juveniles transferred to adult courts and juveniles retained in the juvenile courts (although the violent felony rearrest rate was higher for juveniles transferred to adult courts).

Study 2
Rearrests
Jordan (2012) found that decertified juveniles (i.e., juveniles returned to juvenile court) were significantly more likely to recidivate than non-decertified juveniles (i.e., juveniles transferred to adult court).

Because this finding is contrary to prior research indicating greater recidivism on the part of transferred youths or no relationship between transfer and recidivism, the authors conducted a sensitivity analysis and found that the results are very sensitive to hidden bias (i.e., the effect of unobserved covariates). This finding suggests that it is likely that the signifcant effect may be masking a true lack of effect in this research. In other words, the sensitivity analysis indicates that decertifcation may have no real impact on long-term recidivism, which is consistent with current research.

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Evaluation Methodology

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Study 1
Myers (2003) used a quasi-experimental design to analyze the statewide data of juvenile offenders to compare recidivism between juveniles transferred to adult courts with juveniles retained in the juvenile courts, prior to the March 1996 revision of Pennsylvania’s legislative waiver law.

The study included 494 male juveniles, between the ages of 15 and 18, who had been arrested for robbery, aggravated assault, or both, with the use of a deadly weapon. Of the study participants, 79 were transferred to adult courts (treatment group) while the remaining 415 were retained in juvenile courts (comparison group). There were no significant differences between the treatment and comparison groups on baseline characteristics.

The data used in this study was collected soon after the modified Act 33 went into effect. Therefore, cases processed under the new law could not be used as those cases were still being processed. This study was not a direct test of the effectiveness of Act 33; instead, it was instrumental in defining the population to be studied.

Case information on the juvenile offenders was obtained through the Center for Juvenile Justice Training and Research’s Statistical Analysis Center, which compiles data and publishes annual reports on the activities of all juvenile courts in Pennsylvania. Recidivism measures were obtained through official arrest, case dispositions, and criminal records checks. This data included all cases where “transfer to criminal court” was the final disposition. The study looked at general recidivism, which included any arrest during the follow-up period; and violent felony recidivism, which included any violent felony arrest (offenses such as rape, involuntary deviate sexual intercourse, aggravated assault, robbery, robbery of a motor vehicle, aggravated indecent assault, kidnapping, voluntary manslaughter, or an attempt, conspiracy, or solicitation to commit any of these offenses) during the follow up period.

Study authors noted that, due to the lack of random assignment, there was a possible threat of selection bias. Therefore, a logistic regression model was used to control for these possible threats.

Study 2
Jordan (2012) conducted a quasi-experimental design to study the impact of juvenile transfer on recidivism among Pennsylvania juvenile offenders. The study included 308 male and female offenders, charged with a violent crime and use of a deadly weapon, from three Pennsylvania counties (Philadelphia, Allegheny, and Dauphin), between the ages of 15 and 17, who were followed for 8 years.

Juveniles who are waived to adult court under Pennsylvania Act 33 are able to request a hearing to be decertified and sent back to the juvenile courts. Of the 308 offenders, 135 were decertified (i.e., returned to juvenile courts) and 173 were non-decertified (i.e., transferred to adult courts). Propensity score matching was used to counter any impact of selection bias. There were no significant differences between the treatment and comparison groups on baseline characteristics.

Data for offender recidivism was collected from two sources. First, the Center for Juvenile Justice Training and Research provided rearrest data prior to the offender’s 18th birthday. Second, the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency provided state adult criminal records for the 8-year follow-up period.
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Cost

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There is no cost information available for this program.
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Evidence-Base (Studies Reviewed)

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

Study 1
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. 

Study 2
Jordan, Kareem L. 2012. “Juvenile Transfer and Recidivism: A Propensity Score Matching Approach.” Journal of Crime and Justice 35(1): 53–67.
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Related Practices

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Following are CrimeSolutions.gov-rated practices that are related to this program:

Juvenile Transfer to Adult Court
All states have mechanisms in place (including judicial waivers, statutory exclusions, and prosecutorial direct-files) that allow for juveniles (who commit certain serious or violent offenses) to be transferred for prosecution in the adult criminal court system. The practice is rated No Effects for multiple crime/delinquency types. Youths transferred to adult court had slightly higher odds of recidivating, compared with nontransferred youth; however, this result was nonsignificant.

Evidence Ratings for Outcomes:
No Effects - One Meta-Analysis Crime & Delinquency - Multiple crime/offense types
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Program Snapshot

Age: 15 - 18

Gender: Both

Race/Ethnicity: Black, White

Geography: Rural, Suburban, Urban

Setting (Delivery): Courts

Program Type: Court Processing, General deterrence, Specific deterrence

Targeted Population: Serious/Violent Offender

Current Program Status: Active

Listed by Other Directories: Model Programs Guide

Researcher:
David L. Myers
Department of Criminology, Indiana University of Pennsylvania
200 Wilson Hall
Indiana PA 15705
Email