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Looking Up at the Ivory Tower: Juvenile Court Judges' and Attorneys' Perceptions of Research Use

NCJ Number
Journal of Research in Crime an Delinquency Volume: 58 Issue: 5 Dated: 2021 Pages: 591-630
Date Published
40 pages

This study explored how judges and attorneys define, acquire, interpret (i.e., determine the accuracy and relevancy), and use research in their decision-making in delinquency cases.



We conducted semi-structured interviews with 30 judges, 15 prosecutors, and 13 defense attorneys. We used stratified purposeful sampling, stratifying participants by region of the U.S. and urbanicity. Judges and attorneys have a sound understanding of how research can enhance their work. Typically, judges and attorneys acquire research from intermediaries. Beyond being a conduit for research, intermediaries play an important role in vetting the quality of research and identifying viable recommendations for practice. While practitioners are willing to use research, they feel that their ability to do so is limited by factors such as state policy, funding, and inaccessibility of research. While we caution generalization of the findings, this study contributes to the evidence-base on the use of research by documenting that judges and attorneys most often use research conceptually (i.e., research changes their perspective which then changes their behavior). Although respondents also reported using research-based tools to make specific decisions (instrumental use), many reported overriding research when they felt it conflicted with their judgment, suggesting that political use of research may be prevalent. (Publisher Abstract)

Date Published: January 1, 2021