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Do Criminal Court Outcomes Vary by Juvenile Transfer Mechanism? A Multi-jurisdictional, Multilevel Analysis

In recent decades, the number of juvenile defendants transferred to criminal court has increased dramatically, in large measure due to an expansion of available transfer mechanisms. While transfer traditionally occurred by judicial waiver of jurisdiction, alternatives have emerged and eclipsed judicial waiver as the primary route to adult court. The present study examines whether the mechanism of waiver—judicial, prosecutorial, or legislative—affects sentencing outcomes for juvenile defendants transferred to adult court. Results from multilevel models that control for state-level variation indicate that sentencing outcomes are inextricably tied to method of transfer. Most notably, non-criminal outcomes are most likely for cases that arrive in criminal court by legislative waiver. This suggests that legislative waiver is an ineffective means of sending juvenile offenders to criminal court, and provides some empirical support for the notion that judicial waiver is the most appropriate method of transfer.