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Violence Prevention: Policies Facilitating the Transfer of Juveniles to Adult Justice Systems

Transfer refers to placing juveniles under the jurisdiction of the adult criminal justice system, rather than the juvenile justice system, following arrest. Transfer is also referred to as waiver, denoting the waiver of authority by the juvenile court that allows for transfer of a juvenile defendant to an adult criminal court. Policies regarding the placement of juveniles in the juvenile or in the adult justice systems are largely determined by each state. Several legal mechanisms are used for the transfer of youth under the age of 18 years from the juvenile court system to the adult criminal system. Transfer can be at the discretion of the judge, or be mandated by law, for example for specified serious crimes.

This review assessed policies that mandate or facilitate such transfers under some circumstances.

Summary of Task Force Recommendations and Findings

The Community Preventive Services Task Force recommends against policies facilitating the transfer of juveniles from juvenile to adult criminal justice systems for the purpose of reducing violence, based on strong evidence that these laws and policies are associated with increased subsequent violent behavior among transferred youth. There is insufficient evidence to determine whether juveniles in the general population are deterred from violent crime by strengthened juvenile transfer policies.

Task Force Finding

Results from the Systematic Review

Specific Deterrence Effects

Specific deterrence refers to the concept that youth will refrain from committing additional crimes as a result of their own experience in the adult justice system. Six studies assessed specific deterrent effects of juvenile transfer policies.

  • Transferred youth were more likely to be re-arrested for a violent or other crime than youth retained in the juvenile justice system. Among studies reviewed, the median effect was an increase of 34% in violent rearrests for transferred juveniles, compared with retained juveniles. 
  • Other violent outcomes that may result from the transfer of youth to the adult system include:
    • An increase in pretrial violence
    • Victimization of juveniles in adult facilities
    • Elevated suicide rates for juveniles incarcerated in adult facilities

General Deterrence Effects

General deterrence refers to the concept that youth in the general population will refrain from committing crimes because of the perceived severity of the adult justice system. Evidence on general deterrence was insufficient to determine the effectiveness of youth transfer policies for reducing violence among all youth because of a small number of studies and inconsistent findings. However, following completion of the present review, an article was published on the general deterrent effects of strengthened transfer laws (Steiner et al. 2006). Although we do not formally include it in our review because it was outside of our publication date cutoffs, it is one of the stronger studies to date regarding the general deterrence effect of strengthened transfer. The study concluded that transfer laws do not promote the general deterrence of violent crime.

These findings were based on a systematic review of all available studies, conducted on behalf of the Task Force by a team of specialists in systematic review methods, and in research, practice and policy related to violence prevention.

Supporting Materials

Publications

CDC. Effects on violence of laws and policies facilitating the transfer of youth from the juvenile to the adult justice system. MMWR 2007;56(RR-9):1–11. Adobe PDF File [PDF - 245 kB] External Web Site Icon

McGowan A, Hahn R, Liberman A, et al. Effects on violence of laws and policies facilitating the transfer of juveniles from the juvenile justice system to the adult justice system: a systematic review. Adobe PDF File [PDF - 570 kB] Am J Prev Med 2007;32(4S):S7–S28.

Task Force on Community Preventive Services. Recommendation against policies facilitating the transfer of juveniles from juvenile to adult justice systems for the purpose of reducing violence. Adobe PDF File [PDF - 39 kB] Am J Prev Med 2007;32 (4S):S5-6.

Read other Community Guide publications about Violence Prevention in our library.

Referenced Document

Steiner B, Hemmens C, Bell V. Legislative waiver reconsidered: General deterrent effects of statutory exclusion laws enacted post-1979. Justice Quarterly 2006;23(1):34-59.




Disclaimer

The findings and conclusions on this page are those of the Community Preventive Services Task Force and do not necessarily represent those of CDC. Task Force evidence-based recommendations are not mandates for compliance or spending. Instead, they provide information and options for decision makers and stakeholders to consider when determining which programs, services, and policies best meet the needs, preferences, available resources, and constraints of their constituents.

Sample Citation

The content of publications of the Guide to Community Preventive Services is in the public domain. Citation as to source, however, is appreciated. Sample citation: Guide to Community Preventive Services. Violence prevention: policies facilitating the transfer of juveniles to adult justice systems. www.thecommunityguide.org/violence/transferpolicy.html. Last updated: MM/DD/YYYY.

Review completed: April 2003