The juvenile penalty: A comparison of juvenile and young adult sentencing outcomes in criminal court

Megan C. Kurlychek, Brian D. Johnson

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

110 Scopus citations


This study uses criminal court data from the Pennsylvania Commission on Sentencing (PCS) to investigate the sentencing of juvenile offenders processed in adult criminal court by comparing their sentencing outcomes to those of young adult offenders in similar situations. Because the expanded juvenile exclusion and transfer policies of the 1990s have led to an increase in the number of juveniles convicted in adult courts, we argue that it is critical to better understand the judicial decision making processes involved. We introduce competitive hypotheses on the relative leniency or severity of sentencing outcomes for transferred juveniles and interpret our results with the focal concerns theoretical perspective on sentencing. Our findings indicate that juvenile offenders in adult court are sentenced more severely than their young adult counterparts. Moreover, findings suggest that juvenile status interacts with and conditions the effects of other important sentencing factors including offense type, offense severity and prior criminal record. We discuss these results as they relate to immediate outcomes for transferred juveniles, criminal court processes in general and the broader social implications for juvenile justice policy concerning the transfer of juveniles to criminal court.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)485-515
Number of pages31
Issue number2
StatePublished - May 2004

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Pathology and Forensic Medicine
  • Law


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