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Comparative Impacts of Juvenile and Criminal Court Sanctions on Adolescent Offenders

NCJ Number
J Fagan
Date Published
113 pages
This study compares the severity, certainty, and celerity of sanctions for 15- and 16-year-old adolescents charged with violent felony offenses in New Jersey's juvenile court with identical offenders in matched New York State communities whose cases were adjudicated in criminal court.
The study focus was on the effectiveness of sanctions in reducing recidivism and reincarceration. The sample included 1,200 adolescent felony offenders who had been arrested for robbery and burglary during the 1981-1982 and 1986-1987 periods. Counties and cases in both New Jersey and New York were matched on several variables to control for the effects of social context on sentencing and recidivism. Results showed that little was gained by processing adolescent crimes in criminal court. Sanctions were more certain, but no less severe in the juvenile court compared to the criminal court with significant period effects reflecting exogenous factors that affected both courts. Recidivism rates were lower for adolescents sanctioned in juvenile court. Juveniles were rearrested less often, at a lower rate, and after a longer crime-free interval. Adolescents sanctioned in criminal court had higher crime rates, suggesting that the criminalization of juvenile delinquency may actually have iatrogenic effects with respect to recidivism. Policy implications of the study findings are that special jurisprudence for adolescent crimes and a separate jurisdiction for juvenile offenders are needed and that the current trajectory of juvenile court reform should continue. Appendixes provide additional information on New Jersey and New York statutes for robbery and burglary, juvenile dispositions, and offense classification. 92 references and 14 tables