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Children in an Adult World: Prosecuting Adolescents in Criminal and Juvenile Jurisdictions

NCJ Number
Date Published
September 2003
281 pages
Based on analyses of quantitative and qualitative data for juvenile delinquent cases in counties of New York and New Jersey, this dissertation compares the models of justice applied in juvenile cases processed in juvenile and criminal courts.
To quantitatively analyze case processing and punishments across New York's criminal jurisdiction and New Jersey's juvenile jurisdiction, the study sampled cases of 15-year-old and 16-year-old defendants who were charged with aggravated assault, robbery, or burglary in 1992 or 1993 in 3 counties of New York City (n=1,577) and 3 counties of Northeastern New Jersey (n=1,577). To compare the models of justice that guided case processing in both jurisdiction types, the study used qualitative data on the formality of case processing and the evaluation of adolescents, as well as punishment. Court proceedings were observed, and courtroom actors were interviewed in two courts in New Jersey juvenile jurisdiction and two courts in the New York criminal jurisdiction. Data were also obtained from official case files on the juvenile samples. The study found that the prosecution and punishment of adolescents in the New Jersey juvenile jurisdiction fit the juvenile justice model along each of the three dimensions compared: formality, evaluation, and punishment. In accordance with the juvenile justice model, processing tended to be informal, and the emphasis was upon rehabilitative dispositions that matched treatment to the evaluated needs of each juvenile. The prosecution and punishment of adolescents in the New York criminal jurisdiction, however, fit neither a pure criminal justice model nor a juvenile justice model throughout case processing. Rather, each of the two models was applied at different stages of case processing. During the early stage of case processing, the New York criminal jurisdiction tended to follow a criminal justice model in terms of formal processing in accordance with adult criminal processing characteristics; however, once the sentencing stage of case processing began, a juvenile justice model best described the proceeding, as an effort was made to tailor sentencing to the rehabilitative needs of the juvenile. These findings challenge the popular view that the transfer to criminal court of juveniles charged with serious crimes yields a more punitive and less rehabilitative disposition that does not take into account the offender's age, such that dispositions in criminal courts are distinctly different from those that would be dispensed in a juvenile court. This study found that the criminal justice personnel involved in the New York criminal courts did take into account the offender's age at the point of sentencing and attempted to tailor sentencing within a rehabilitative framework. Future research should compare adult and juvenile processing in criminal courts. 11 tables, 180 references, and appended supplementary data analysis, logit tests of Heckman two-stage method, and testing multivariate models with interaction terms

Date Published: September 1, 2003