Transfer of Juveniles to Criminal Court is Not Correlated with Falling Youth Violence



button_downloadpf_smallButts, Jeffrey A. (2012). Transfer of Juveniles to Criminal Court is Not Correlated with Falling Youth ViolenceResearch and Evaluation Data Bits [2012-05]. New York, NY: Research and Evaluation Center, John Jay College of Criminal Justice, City University of New York.

Since the 1990s, nearly every state in the U.S. expanded its provisions for transferring juveniles to criminal court, especially provisions that do not require judicial approval. Entire classes of young offenders are transferred without the involvement of the court, based only on the discretion of prosecutors or the preferences of legislators. These non-judicial mechanisms now account for most transfers.

As the use of criminal court transfer grew in the 1990s, serious and violent juvenile crime also began to fall and continued to fall dramatically. Between 2001 and 2010, according to the FBI, juvenile arrests for the four offenses in the Violent Crime Index (murder, rape, robbery, and aggravated assault) dropped by 22 percent nationwide, including a decline of 24 percent in arrests for murder.


At first glance, it may appear that the greater use of transfer lowered violent youth crime, but this argument is refuted by a simple analysis of crime trends. In the six states that allow fair comparisons (i.e., where all juveniles ages 16-17 are originally subject to juvenile court jurisdiction and sufficient data exist for the calculations), the use of criminal court transfer bears no relationship to changes in juvenile violence. The 1995-2010 drop in violent crime ranged from –50% to –74% in these states, but the size of the decline was not related to the use of transfer. Florida transfers more youth than any other state, but its violent crime drop (–57%) was in the middle of the range. In states that use transfer much less often, total violent crime fell almost as much (California and Washington) or far more (Ohio) than it did in Florida.



Data Sources:
Arrest Rate: Number of under-age-18 arrests reported to the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reports per 100,000 total state population. Calculated with data from “Crime in the United States,” Table 69. Washington, DC: Federal Bureau of Investigation, U.S. Department of Justice.

Transfer Rate: Average criminal court transfers per 100,000 youth ages 10-17 between 2003 and 2008, from Griffin, Patrick, Sean Addie, Benjamin Adams, and Kathy Firestine (2011). “Trying Youth as Adults: An Analysis of State Transfer Laws and Reporting,” p. 18. Washington, DC: Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, U.S. Department of Justice.