This study tested whether juveniles prosecuted in criminal courts were subjected to different punishments and sentencing criteria than juveniles processed in a juvenile court, as the literature and political rhetoric suggest.
The study found that the more severe sentencing options available to criminal courts and criminal courts' limited options for noncustodial sentences compared to juvenile courts produced a higher incarceration rate for juveniles processed in criminal courts compared with those processed in juvenile courts. The study did not find, however, that offense-relevant variables had greater influence in the dispositions of criminal court than in juvenile court. In both types of courts, similar offense-related factors predicted incarceration. This suggests that offender-oriented factors make incarceration less likely in juvenile courts compared with criminal courts when offense-related variables are similar. Juvenile courts are more likely than criminal courts to use procedures designed to identify the offender-related factors that contributed to the offense, regardless of the severity of the offense, and then tailor dispositions to addressing those needs. In order to compare sentencing criteria across juvenile and criminal courts, this study analyzed quantitative data for 2 subsamples: a sample of juvenile court cases in New Jersey (n=556) and a sample of criminal court cases in New York (n=914). All sampled cases involved 16-year-old defendants processed in 1992 or 1993 who were charged with aggravated assault (first and second degree), robbery (first and second degree), or burglary (first degree). The study assessed whether the sentencing predictors had different influences across court types and how particular variables shaped sentencing differently in juvenile and criminal courts. 5 tables, 21 notes, and 100 references