The Sentencing of Juveniles in Criminal Court

Megan Kurlychek, The Pennsylvania State University
Brian Daniel Johnson, Pennsylvania State University

ABSTRACT
The present study utilizes criminal court data from the Pennsylvania Commission on Sentencing (PCS) to investigate the sentencing of juvenile offenders processed in an adult criminal court. As the number of juveniles facing prosecution in adult court continues to grow, we argue that it is crucial for the field to develop an understanding of the judicial decision-making processes that impact the sentencing outcomes of this population. This study therefore compares sentencing outcomes for juveniles to similarly situated adult offenders across criminal courts in Pennsylvania. We employ recent statistical advances in sentencing research to investigate the relative importance of juvenile status in the sentencing decision after controlling for other relevant legal and extra-legal factors. Our preliminary findings indicate that juveniles who are transferred to adult court are sentenced more severely than their equivalent adult counterparts. This finding holds for both the in/out and sentence length decisions and raises important questions about the role of juvenile status in adult courts. We discuss our findings in light of recent shifts in juvenile justice policies that increasingly rely on adult courts for the sentencing of juvenile offenders.

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Updated 05/20/2006