Maturity of Judgment in Delinquent Youth

Kathy Modecki, University of New Hampshire
Ellen S. Cohn, University of New Hampshire

A major argument for both child advocates and penal reformers surrounds the merging of the criminal justice and the juvenile justice systems (Scott & Grisso, 1998). States currently transfer juvenile offenders to adult court based on age, severity of offense, or mitigating circumstances (Juvenile Offenders & Victims, 1999). This move presumes that adolescents are equally competent as adults and are thus equally culpable for their crimes. Yet the juvenile justice system was founded on a different assumption: adolescents are less mature than adults (Scott & Grisso, 1998). Research has shown that adolescent decision making is less mature than adult decision making and that maturity of judgment is a better predictor of anti-social decision-making than age (Cauffman & Steinberg, 2000). The current study utilzied a sample of delinquent adolescents enrolled in an Outward Bound program and in a diversion program, as well as a control sample of high school students, to invedtigate the relation between maturity of judgment and delinquent behavior. We tested a model of delinquency, predicted by decision making maturity, and mediated by Belief in a Just World (Rubin & Peplau, 1975) and Primary versus Secondary locus of control (Rothbaum, Weisz, & Snyder, 1982).

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Updated 05/20/2006