Article Review: The Effects of Juvenile Transfer to Criminal Court on Incarceration Decisions

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Legislation throughout the years has been expanded to allow for juveniles to be prosecuted as adults. This particular modification has thereby permitted transfer of juveniles at lower ages and for a significant amount of offenses. Presently, every state within the United States including the District of Columbia has adopted this approach to juveniles. The frequent mechanism by which this approach is exercised is by a judicial waiver. This particular waiver allows judges to reason whether certain cases associated with juvenile delinquents and offenders should be dealt with in adult criminal courts, even in light of possible juvenile alternative programs. There are in addition to this, other techniques of juvenile transfer including direct file, which puts the final say into the hands of the prosecutor rather than the judge; and statutory exclusion, a mandate type process that utilizes expediency of juveniles into adult court. Benjamin Steiner in his article, "The Effects of Juvenile Transfer to Criminal Court on Incarceration Decisions," highlights findings associated with youthful juveniles who are plunged into the corridor of adulthood within the criminal justice system.

Steiner's expression of juvenile transfer is one of straightforwardness, opening with a definition of what juvenile transfer is and the court cases where the subject matter has taken place. Steiner takes the reader on a judicial voyage through Kent v. United States and In re Gault in the 1970s, the toughening up of the laws pertaining to youthful offenders during the 80's and 90's and the changes that have "expanded the scope of statutory exclusion and direct file statutes" (Steiner, 2009) since the year 2000. Steiner states that researchers have often sought to understand the differences in outcomes depending upon states in how juvenile offenders are handled. He reasons that "comparisons between sentencing outcomes for juveniles transferred to criminal court and other adult offenders have an advantage in that both groups are sentenced by the same set of judges who have at their disposal the same dispositional options" (Steiner, 2009). Steiner's article is crafted to extend an article written by Kurlychek & Johnson (2004), which compared "the pretrial detention and imprisonment outcomes of juveniles waived to criminal court to those received by young adults 29 years of age or younger" (Kurlychek & Johnson, 2004; Steiner, 2009). Steiner moves to providing empirical data to add depth to the comparisons adding that certain factors often result in outcomes that are more stringent.

Steiner reveals that there are disproportionate findings in the types of juveniles who are waived to adult court as a consequence of "poverty, high mobility, considerable drug activity and racial heterogeneity" (Steiner, 2009) and that these are often those whom the criminal justice system sees as problems and thus, can be tried as adults. Burgess-Proctor et al. (2008) echoed similar rationale in their policy brief on the agenda that courts have regarding those juveniles who are transferred and those who are not (Burgess-Proctor et al, 2008). Steiner probes into the factors that were mentioned to unveil the inequalities and disadvantages that certain youths have and in effect, are associated with higher levels of crime and violence. He states that there is a definitive difference in juveniles in pretrial detention and those who are faced with being incarcerated as adults. 

To logically express this reasoning, Steiner conducted a study using individuals from both sets to ascertain if a difference existed. It would seem as though Steiner was not surprised to discover that race has a notable bearing on how the judges and/or prosecutors handle juvenile waivers. He notes that much of the findings in his study were similar to that of Demuth (2003) which found that those offenders who were arrested for felonies were likely to be denied bail and were less likely to candidates that remained as juveniles (Steiner, 2009; Demuth, 2003). The study by Steiner also revealed that most juveniles who received waivers were those "who appear[ed] more dangerous to courtroom actors [which were factors also noted in] Lizotte (1978)” (Steiner, 2009).

The article is very descriptive and thoroughly executed on the topic at hand, providing a profound understanding of juvenile offenders, their peer influences, and how the criminal justice system treats certain types in terms of waivers. The reviewer felt the article was quite interesting to read in that it provided insight into how legal precedence is often ignored depending upon factors associated with the arrested juvenile offender and further expanded the outlook on the mediocrity in the criminal justice system on certain issues.


Burgess-Proctor, Holtrop, K., & Villarruel, F. A. (2008). Youth Transferred to Adult Court Disparities (Policy Brief Adultification Volume 2). Retrieved from Connecticut Juvenile Justice Alliance website:

Demuth, S. (2003). Racial and ethnic differences in pretrial release decisions and outcomes: A comparison of Hispanic, Black, and White felony arrestees. Criminology, 41, 873-907.

Kurlychek, M., & Johnson, B. (2004). The juvenile penalty: A comparison of juvenile and young adult sentencing outcomes in criminal court. Criminology, 42, 485-517.

Steiner, B. (2009, February 12). The Effects of Juvenile Transfer to Criminal Court on Incarceration Decisions. Justice Quarterly, 26(1), 77-106.