Legal Rationality and Jurisdictional Transfer: Comparing Sentencing of Adolescents in Juvenile and Criminal Courts

Aaron Kupchik, New York University

Despite a recent proliferation of laws transferring adolescents from juvenile court to criminal court, no research has examined whether these transfer policies subject adolescents to a more 'formally rational' sentencing process than in juvenile courts. In response, this paper assesses whether adolescents prosecuted as adults are subjected to different sentencing criteria and outcomes than are adolescents prosecuted in juvenile courts. It does so using comparable samples of cases, matched by age and offense, from two adjacent jurisdictions with different thresholds for criminal court eligibility. The results indicate that a criminal court tariff exists, whereby criminal court actors are more likely than juvenile court actors to sentence convicted defendants to incarceration. The possibility is considered that relative to one another, juvenile courts operate via substantive legal rationality and criminal courts via formal legal rationality; contrary to this theoretical contrast, the results indicate that similar factors predict sentencing in both types of courts.

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Updated 05/20/2006