Juvenile Waiver Decision Making in Courts: Rehabilitation vs Punishment

Dina Roy, University at Albany

Societal angst with crime, fear of the rise in youth violence, and the dangerous characteristics of violent young offenders have provided the political impetus to prosecute larger numbers of youths as adults. During the past several decades, nearly every state has amended its juvenile code in response to perceived increases in serious, persistent, and violent youth crime. These waiver legislation changes appear to provide an indicator of the jurisprudential shift in emphasis from rehabilitation to retribution, with the focus on characteristics of the offense rather than the offender. The current study attempts to discern whether state court judicial opinions reflect a shift toward punishment or remain committed to the rehabilitation of youth through affirmation or reversal of waiver decisions. Through an examination of several hundred case records from courts across the country, a number of concepts discussed within judicial opinions were coded and analyzed. These factors include a juvenile's age, social background, intellectual development, psychological maturity, nature of the offense, prior record, among other factors related to the youth's amenability to rehabilitation. Logistic regression analysis assessed the factors considered when reversing or affirming a waiver decision, and whether the judicial opinion reflected an inclination towards punishment or a rehabilitative ideal.

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Updated 05/20/2006