Sending "Sophisticated" Children "Upstairs": The Social, Legal and Organizational Context of Contemporary Juvenile Waiver Proceedings

Alexes Harris, University of California, Los Angeles

The focus of this research is on the assessments and decision-making involved in legally certifying children as adults, and transferring them from the juvenile system to the adult criminal justice system. A key research question is: What are the key legal, social, and organizational factors that affect juvenile court officials' decision-making during the transfer of youth from the juvenile justice system to the adult criminal system? The current project uses descriptive statistics and statistical analysis of official files from the juvenile and adult court to explore decision-making stages during the juvenile court waiver process. Data from 1998 were collected and analyzed to compare the salience of factors affecting the decision to transfer minors to the criminal system. Approximately 433 minors were transferred from the juvenile system to the adult criminal system in 1998. These minors' files were pulled from the adult record archive and a coding sheet was used to identify key variables involved in the transfer decision. Similarly, a sample of minors retained within the juvenile system during 1998 were selected based on offenses charged. This set of retained minors, approximately 400, were identified, their files were pulled from the juvenile archive, and a coding sheet was used to identify key variables. A closer analysis of juvenile court waiver procdesses provides key insight to the workings of contemporary juvenile courts; the power relations among key court officials; how decision-making occurs; factors which play into assessments of childhood; and key organizational realities faced by today's juvenile court officials.

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Updated 05/20/2006