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Blended Sentencing Laws and the Punitive Turn in Juvenile Justice

In many states, young people today can receive a “blended” combination of both a juvenile sanction and an adult criminal sentence. We ask what accounts for the rise of blended sentencing in juvenile justice and whether this trend parallels crime control developments in the adult criminal justice system. We use event history analysis to model state adoption of blended sentencing laws from 1985 to 2008, examining the relative influence of social, political, administrative, and economic factors. We find that states with high unemployment, greater prosecutorial discretion, and disproportionate rates of African American incarceration are most likely to pass blended sentencing provisions. This suggests that the turn toward blended sentencing largely parallels the punitive turn in adult sentencing and corrections—and that theory and research on adult punishment productively extends to developments in juvenile justice.