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Report: Does Transferring Kids to Adult Court Deter Future Offenses?

Tuesday, the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) released “Transfer of Juveniles to Adult Court: Effects of a Broad Policy in One Court,” a new bulletin culling data from the Pathways to Desistance Study.

The longitudinal report examined outcomes for juveniles transferred to adult courts in Maricopa County, Ariz., with the authors concluding that 77 percent of young people that returned to their community after being sent to adult facilities reengaged in at least some level of “antisocial activity,” with approximately two-thirds eventually arrested or placed in an “institutional setting.”

“Adolescents in the adult system may be at risk for disruptions in their personal development, identity formation, relationships, learning, growth in skills and competencies and positive movement into adult status,” the report’s authors wrote.

Researchers said transferring young people to adult courts might have a “differential” effect, with some juveniles becoming likelier to offend again, depending on the young person’s presenting offense and previous offense history. Researchers state that adolescent offenders transferred to adult courts, without any prior petitions, were much likelier to be re-arrested than young people that remained in the juvenile justice system.

“Most of the youth in the study who were sent to adult facilities returned to the community within a few years, varying widely in their levels of adjustment,” the report says. “Youth were more likely to successfully adjust when they were not influenced by antisocial peers.”

Additionally, researchers say that adolescents are also at an elevated risk of being physically or sexually attacked while housed at adult facilities. Despite representing a meager proportion of total inmates in the nation’s adult prison system, analysts estimate that 21 percent of all victims of substantiated incidents of inmate-on-inmate sexual violence in 2005 were under the age of 18.

While transferring juveniles with serious violent offenses to adult courts “seemed to have its intended effect,” the report noted that adult court transfers had a detrimental effect regarding juveniles with serious property offenses.

“These analyses provide clear evidence that certain case characteristics, most notably type of offense and prior history, are differentially related to outcomes among transferred adolescents,” the researchers concluded.

Photo from the OJJDP's “Transfer of Juveniles to Adult Court: Effects of a Broad Policy in One Court.”