Be Careful What You Wish For: Empirical Realities of Punishing Juveniles as Adults

Jeffrey Fagan, Columbia University
Aaron Kupchik, New York University
Tanya Atamanoff, Columbia University

Recent research suggests that adolescents transferred to the criminal courts have higher and more serious recidivism rates than those retained by juvenile courts. However, few studies have examined differences between juvenile and adult punishment to explain the apparent iatrogenic effects of adult punishment on recidivism rates. The distinction between juvenile and adult corrections is more than just a nominal difference between rehabilitation and retribution. There are critical differences in the composition and social organization of the inmate populations, in the organization and cultures of staff, and in the intensity and types of services. Accordingly, there are potentially important consequences of treating juveniles as adults that might evlevate risks of crime and other adverse developmental outcomes. This paper reports results of interviews with matched samples of N=250 adolescent offenders incarcerated in juvenile or adult correctional facilities. To assess differences in juvenile versus criminal correctional contexts, we compare their correctional experiences, including their ratings of procedural justice, educational and vocational services, therapeutic orientation, safety and physical danger, mental health functioning, and social networks.

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Updated 05/20/2006