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Necessarily Relative: Is Juvenile Justice Speedy Enough?

NCJ Number
Crime and Delinquency Volume: 43 Issue: 1 Dated: (January 1997) Pages: 3-23
J A Butts
Date Published
21 pages
This study examines the timing of juvenile justice by analyzing delinquency case processing in nearly 400 jurisdictions.
Using data contributed voluntarily to the National Juvenile Court Data Archive by juvenile courts and juvenile justice agencies throughout the United States, this analysis examines data on delinquency cases processed during 1991 and 1992 by juvenile courts in 16 States. Thirty-nine counties met the criteria for the study. Together, they processed 257,532 delinquency cases in 1991 and 267,181 cases in 1992. Cases from the sample jurisdictions were similar to delinquency cases nationwide. The number of days between referral and disposition were calculated for every delinquency case processed by the sample jurisdictions during 1991 and 1992. The median disposition time for all cases was 40 days. Twenty-six percent of all cases had disposition times that exceeded 90 days. Disposition time appeared to be related to the size of the jurisdiction. The median disposition time for cases from large counties was 50 days, compared with 39 days for medium-sized jurisdictions and 27 days for cases from small jurisdictions. Formally charged cases had substantially longer disposition times than cases handled informally. The median processing time for petitioned cases was 69 days. Although large jurisdictions are more likely than small jurisdictions to experience problems with delay, significant variation in case processing time remains after the population of a jurisdiction is taken into account by multivariate analyses. After controlling for population size, the juvenile court process is slower in jurisdictions with a high proportion of drug offense cases, suggesting that case complexity increases delay. Further, findings suggest that the handling of delinquency cases is slower in juvenile courts with fact-finding orientations similar to the criminal courts, where referral to court does not always result in the filing of formal charges, and formal charges do not automatically result in conviction. The speed of the juvenile court process deserves closer attention from researchers and policymakers. 3 figures, 3 tables, 9 notes, and 28 references