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Assessing the Relative Effects of State Direct File Waiver Laws on Violent Juvenile Crime: Deterrence or Irrelevance

Juvenile waiver, or transfer, laws allow certain young offenders to be removed from juvenile court jurisdiction and prosecuted in criminal court, where the range of sanctions is presumably greater. In the past several decades, many states have modified their existing transfer statutes in order to streamline the waiver process and make it easier to prosecute juveniles in criminal court. In doing so, states have excluded certain offenses from juvenile court jurisdiction or added concurrent jurisdiction provisions to their existing waiver statutes. Concurrent jurisdiction, or direct file, statutes afford prosecutors the unreviewable discretion to charge certain juveniles in either juvenile or criminal court. Although the increased legislation has generated a considerable amount of evaluations of the various effects of juvenile transfer laws, few studies have examined the deterrent effects of such laws on aggregate juvenile crime. In this study, we assess the general deterrent effects of direct file transfer laws in fourteen states which have such provisions. Findings reveal that direct file laws have little effect on violent juvenile crime.