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Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report

Recommendations and Reports

November 30, 2007 / Vol. 56 / No. RR-9

Effects on Violence of Laws and Policies Facilitating
the Transfer of Youth from the Juvenile
to the Adult Justice System
A Report on Recommendations of the Task Force
on Community Preventive Services

tment of health and human ser
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

The MMWR series of publications is published by the Coordinating
Center for Health Information and Service, Centers for Disease
Control and Prevention (CDC), U.S. Department of Health and
Human Services, Atlanta, GA 30333.
Suggested Citation: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
[Title]. MMWR 2007;56(No. RR-#):[inclusive page numbers].

Background .......................................................................... 1
Introduction .......................................................................... 3
Methods ............................................................................... 3
Results ................................................................................. 6
Specific Deterrence Effects ................................................. 6

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Julie L. Gerberding, MD, MPH
Tanja Popovic, MD, PhD
Chief Science Officer
James W. Stephens, PhD
Associate Director for Science
Steven L. Solomon, MD
Director, Coordinating Center for Health Information and Service
Jay M. Bernhardt, PhD, MPH
Director, National Center for Health Marketing
Katherine L. Daniel, PhD
Deputy Director, National Center for Health Marketing
Editorial and Production Staff
Frederic E. Shaw, MD, JD
Editor, MMWR Series
Suzanne M. Hewitt, MPA
Managing Editor, MMWR Series
Teresa F. Rutledge
Lead Technical Writer-Editor
David Johnson
Project Editor
Beverly J. Holland
Lead Visual Information Specialist
Lynda G. Cupell
Malbea A. LaPete
Visual Information Specialists
Quang M. Doan, MBA
Erica R. Shaver
Information Technology Specialists
Editorial Board
William L. Roper, MD, MPH, Chapel Hill, NC, Chairman
Virginia A. Caine, MD, Indianapolis, IN
David W. Fleming, MD, Seattle, WA
William E. Halperin, MD, DrPH, MPH, Newark, NJ
Margaret A. Hamburg, MD, Washington, DC
King K. Holmes, MD, PhD, Seattle, WA
Deborah Holtzman, PhD, Atlanta, GA
John K. Iglehart, Bethesda, MD
Dennis G. Maki, MD, Madison, WI
Sue Mallonee, MPH, Oklahoma City, OK
Stanley A. Plotkin, MD, Doylestown, PA
Patricia Quinlisk, MD, MPH, Des Moines, IA
Patrick L. Remington, MD, MPH, Madison, WI
Barbara K. Rimer, DrPH, Chapel Hill, NC
John V. Rullan, MD, MPH, San Juan, PR
Anne Schuchat, MD, Atlanta, GA
Dixie E. Snider, MD, MPH, Atlanta, GA
John W. Ward, MD, Atlanta, GA

General Deterrence Effects ................................................ 8
Discussion ............................................................................ 8
Research Needs ................................................................... 9
Use of the Recommendations .............................................. 9
Acknowledgment ............................................................... 10
References ......................................................................... 10

Vol. 56 / RR-9

Recommendations and Reports


Effects on Violence of Laws and Policies Facilitating
the Transfer of Youth from the Juvenile
to the Adult Justice System
A Report on Recommendations of the Task Force
on Community Preventive Services*
Prepared by
Robert Hahn, PhD1
Angela McGowan, JD1
Akiva Liberman, PhD2
Alex Crosby, MD3
Mindy Fullilove, MD4
Robert Johnson, MD5
Eve Moscicki, ScD6
LeShawndra Price, PhD6
Susan Snyder, PhD1
Farris Tuma, ScD6
Jessica Lowy1
Peter Briss, MD1
Stella Cory, MD1
Glenda Stone, PhD1
Division of Health Communications, National Center for Health Marketing, CDC
National Institute of Justice, Washington, District of Columbia
Division of Violence Prevention, National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, CDC
Columbia University, New York, New York, and Task Force on Community Preventive Services
New Jersey Medical School, Department of Pediatrics, Newark, New Jersey, and Task Force on Community Preventive Services
National Institute of Mental Health, Bethesda, Maryland

The independent, nonfederal Task Force on Community Preventive Services (Task Force), which directs the development of
the Guide to Community Preventive Services (Community Guide), conducted a systematic review of published scientific
evidence concerning the effectiveness of laws and policies that facilitate the transfer of juveniles to the adult criminal justice
system to determine whether these transfers prevent or reduce violence among youth who have been transferred and among the
juvenile population as a whole. For this review, transfer is defined as placing juveniles aged <18 years under the jurisdiction
of the adult criminal justice system. The review followed Community Guide methods for conducting a systematic review of
literature and for providing recommendations to public health decision makers. Available evidence indicates that transfer to
the adult criminal justice system typically increases rather than decreases rates of violence among transferred youth. Available
evidence was insufficient to determine the effect of transfer laws and policies on levels of violent crime in the overall juvenile
population. On the basis of these findings, the Task Force recommends against laws or policies facilitating the transfer of
juveniles to the adult criminal justice system for the purpose of reducing violence.
* Points of view expressed are those of the contributors and the Task Force on
Community Preventive Services and do not necessarily reflect those of CDC,
the National Institutes of Health, the National Institute of Justice, the U.S.
Department of Justice, or the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

The material in this report originated in the National Center for
Health Marketing, Jay M. Bernhardt, PhD, Director; and the Division
of Health Communication and Marketing, Cynthia E. Baur, PhD,
Corresponding preparer: Robert A. Hahn, National Center for
Health Marketing, 1600 Clifton Road, MS E-69, Atlanta, GA 30333.
Telephone: 404-498-0958; Fax: 404-498-0989; E-mail:

The purpose of this review was to determine whether
laws or policies that facilitate the transfer of juveniles from
the juvenile to the adult criminal justice system reduce
interpersonal violence, either specifically among juveniles
who have experienced the adult justice system or in the
general juvenile population. One rationale for the transfer
of juveniles to the adult justice system is to deter future
criminal activity, on the premise that the adult system is
more severe and punitive than the juvenile system. For this
review, transfer (also referred to as “waiver” to denote the



relinquishing of authority by the juvenile courts) refers to
placing juveniles under the jurisdiction of the adult criminal justice system. Although the legal term “juvenile” is
defined differently among states, for purposes of this review,
a juvenile is considered a person aged <18 years. Juveniles
who are not transferred to the adult court system are said
to be retained in the juvenile system.
The reduction of violence through transfer policies is
hypothesized to occur by two mechanisms—specific
deterrence and general deterrence—both of which rely on
the perceived severity of the adult criminal justice system
compared with the juvenile system. “Specific deterrence”
refers to juveniles who have been subjected to the adult
justice system and “general deterrence” refers to all youth
in the population who might be subject to transfer provisions if charged with a crime. “Deterrence” applies to the
behavioral outcome of reduced offending or re-offending
and not to decision processes made by the affected youth.
Incapacitation is the inability of incarcerated convicts to
commit crimes in society during incarceration; incapacitation is thought to be increased for juveniles in adult
settings compared with those in juvenile settings.
In a representative national survey in 2002, rates of the
perpetration of violent crime, including simple and aggravated assault, robbery, and rape, were highest among persons aged 15–20 years (1,2). U.S. adults reported
approximately 1.9 million incidents of victimization by
perpetrators estimated to be aged 12–20 years, a rate of
5.1 incidents per year of victimization per 100 juveniles in
this age group (3,4). Although arrest and victimization data
indicate declines among juveniles for violent acts in general
following a peak during 1993–1994, self-report of offenses
continues to indicate high rates of violence (3).
Juvenile and criminal law in the United States are principally state matters. Juvenile courts were first established in
1899 in Illinois. By 1925, all states except Maine and
Wyoming had separate juvenile courts (5). Separate judicial process for juveniles has been justified on several grounds
related to the psychosocial development of this population
(6). Certain developmental differences are cited in justification of the Supreme Court decision to ban capital punishment for crimes committed by offenders aged <18 years
at the time of the crime (7). In general, juveniles differ
from adults in their biologic development and mental processes and capacities. Juveniles are less aware of consequences, less able to regulate impulses or inhibit behavior,
and thus less culpable for their actions than adults. In
addition, juveniles have less ability to understand and thus
participate in the standard adult judicial process (8). Finally,
juveniles are more malleable and amenable to reform of

November 30, 2007

their behavior. Therefore, an emphasis of the judicial
response to their deviant behavior should be on reform rather
than, or in addition to, punishment—in contrast to the
punitive focus of the adult criminal justice system (6). The
policy implications of these developmental issues with
respect to court jurisdiction remain controversial, especially
because of the variations in adolescent cognitive and social
development for which chronologic age is not a precise
In contrast to the adult criminal court, which is oriented
toward punishment, the traditional juvenile court has acted
“in the interests of the child” and focused on rehabilitation
rather than punishment because juveniles are assumed to be
more amenable than adults to treatment (9). Juvenile courts
in the United States have always followed the principle of
parens patriae—the state acts as a guardian for those who
cannot take care of themselves, such as children and the
mentally ill (10,11). Traditionally, transfer from juvenile to
adult court jurisdiction has required a determination that
the juvenile was not amenable to treatment (5,10). Recent
changes to the juvenile court’s mission weighs protection of
the community and the interests of the child (11).
Although states establish their own juvenile and adult
criminal law, common trends are discernible across states.
Following the increases in violent juvenile crime in the late
1980s and early 1990s, during 1992–1999, all states
except Nebraska expanded their transfer provisions to
facilitate prosecuting juveniles in the adult justice system
(12–16). An estimated 210,000–260,000 juveniles, or
20%–25% of all juvenile offenders, were prosecuted as
adults in 1996 (14).
Persons aged <18 years can be tried in the adult criminal
justice system by one of six main mechanisms. In “judicial
waiver,” the traditional mechanism, a juvenile court judge
can waive a youth to the adult system, generally based on
perceived lack of amenability to treatment, which is often
based on considerations such as age, seriousness of the current offense, and previous delinquency (13). In
“prosecutorial waiver,” the prosecutor has the discretion to
file a case in the juvenile or the adult criminal court system. In “statutory exclusion,” youth of particular ages
charged with particular crimes (e.g., homicide) are excluded
by statute from juvenile justice system jurisdiction. When
particular charges are excluded from juvenile court by statutory means, discretion resides with prosecutors, who decide which charges are filed; choice of charge might
determine whether the juvenile is transferred (15).
The increases in transfer resulting from the preceding
three mechanisms are amplified by a policy that “once an
adult, always an adult,” whereby youth once transferred to

Vol. 56 / RR-9

Recommendations and Reports

adult court also are automatically transferred for any future
offending (13). With lowered age of adult court jurisdiction, states set the age at which a person is considered
responsible for criminal actions, and no longer eligible for
juvenile court, to an age younger than the traditional age
of 18 years. Finally, in certain states, juveniles who are married or otherwise “emancipated” (i.e., released from parental
authority) are excluded from juvenile court. In a mechanism
typically referred to as “reverse waiver,” youth who have not
reached the age of majority can be transferred from the adult
court back to the juvenile court when cases are deemed
inappropriate for the adult criminal court system.
States also are experimenting with “blended sentencing,”
which allows a juvenile to be sentenced to both juvenile
and adult sanctions by one court. Blended sentencing by
the juvenile court allows the court to monitor youth
beyond the traditional end of juvenile jurisdiction (16).
This frequently involves juvenile incarceration until the age
of majority, followed by adult incarceration. Greater sentencing flexibility might reduce the pressure to transfer
court jurisdiction, but little research has been conducted
on how blended sentencing is used in practice (17).

The independent, nonfederal Task Force on Community
Preventive Services (Task Force) develops the Guide to Community Preventive Services (Community Guide), with the support of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
(DHHS), in collaboration with public and private partners (18,19). Although CDC provides staff support to the
Task Force for development of the Community Guide, the
recommendations presented in this report were developed
by the Task Force and do not necessarily reflect the viewpoints of CDC or DHHS.
This report is one in a series included in the Community
Guide, a resource that includes multiple systematic reviews
addressing preventive public health topics (e.g., violence
prevention, preventing tobacco use, and reducing the incidence of cancer) (19). This section provides an overview of
the process used by the Task Force to select and review evidence and summarize its recommendations regarding
interventions to prevent or reduce violence. A full report on
the recommendations, supporting evidence, and remaining
research questions regarding the effects of strengthened transfer
laws and policies on violence is published elsewhere (20).
Using effective interventions to reduce violence might help
to achieve certain objectives specified in Healthy People 2010
(21), the disease prevention and health promotion agenda
for the United States. Healthy People 2010 objectives iden-


tify some of the substantial preventable threats to health
and can help focus the efforts of public health systems,
legislators, and law enforcement officials for addressing
those threats by establishing measurable targets. Many of
the Healthy People 2010 objectives regarding injury and
violence prevention (e.g., the reduction of rates of assault,
homicide, rape, and robbery) might be positively affected
by the intervention reviewed in this report.

In this review, Community Guide procedures were used
to assess systematically whether policies that facilitate the
transfer of juveniles from the juvenile to adult criminal justice system have been effective in reducing violence among
juveniles. Community Guide methods for systematic reviews
have been discussed elsewhere (22). In the Community
Guide, evidence is summarized about the effectiveness of
interventions in changing one or more health-related outcomes and about other positive or negative effects of the
intervention. If an intervention is effective, evidence also is
summarized regarding the applicability of the findings
(i.e., the extent to which available effectiveness data might
apply to diverse populations and settings), other harms or
benefits of the intervention, economic efficiency, and
barriers to the implementation of the intervention.
As with other Community Guide reviews, the process used
to review evidence systematically and then translate that
evidence into conclusions involves forming a systematic
review development team; developing a conceptual approach
to organizing, grouping, and selecting interventions;
selecting interventions to evaluate; searching for and
retrieving evidence; assessing the quality of and abstracting
information from each study; assessing the quality of and
drawing conclusions about the body of evidence (i.e., all
available evidence combined) of effectiveness; and translating the evidence of effectiveness into recommendations.
Three groups comprised the systematic review development team: the coordination team, the consultation team,
and the abstraction team.* The coordination team (“the
team”) consisted of a Task Force member, specialists in systematic reviews and economics from the Community Guide

Systematic review team: Coordination team: Robert Hahn, PhD; Angela
McGowan, JD; Akiva Liberman, PhD; Alex Crosby, MD; Mindy Fullilove,
MD; Robert Johnson, MD; Eve Moscicki, ScD; LeShawndra Price, PhD;
Susan Snyder, PhD; Farris Tuma, ScD; Jessica Lowy, MPH; Peter Briss, MD;
Stella Cory, MD; Glenda Stone, PhD. Consultation team: Danielle LaRaque,
MD; Colin Loftin, PhD; James Mercy, PhD; Laurie Anderson, PhD; Suzanne
Salzinger, PhD; Patricia Smith; Dick Bathrick. Abstraction team: Robert Hahn,
PhD; Angela McGowan, JD; Akiva Liberman, PhD.



Branch (National Center for Health Marketing, CDC), and
authorities on violence from the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control (CDC), the National Institutes of Health (NIH), and the National Institute of Justice
(NIJ). This team developed the conceptual framework for
the review; coordinated the data collection and review process; and drafted evidence tables, summaries of the evidence,
and the reports. The abstraction team—three members of
the coordination team—determined which studies met
Community Guide standards for inclusion in the systematic
review and collected and recorded data from these studies.
The consultation team members—national authorities on
violence-related topics—nominated interventions to be reviewed, participated in the selection of priority interventions for review, provided advice, and reviewed the final
Searches for published research were conducted in eight
computerized databases: the National Criminal Justice
Reference Service (NCJRS), Education Resources Information Center (ERIC), PsycINFO, Wilson Social Sciences
Abstracts, Social SciSearch, National Technical Information
Service (NTIS), Medline, and Lexis/Nexis.† Search terms
included “juvenile transfer” and its synonyms (e.g.,
“waiver”), and “efficacy” and “recidivism.” Relevant references listed in retrieved articles were evaluated and obtained,
and subject-matter specialists were consulted to find additional published reports. The coordination team conducted
Internet searches to ensure that no additional studies could
be found by these means. Journal articles, government
reports, books, and book chapters were eligible for inclusion
in the review.
Articles published in any year before February 2003§ were
considered for inclusion if they evaluated a new or strength†


These databases can be accessed as follows: NCJRS:
content/AbstractsDB_Search.asp; ERIC:;
PsycInfo: DIALOG (requires id/password
account),; Wilson Social
Sciences Abstracts:
(requires id/password account); Social SciSearch:
bluesheets/html/bl0007.html (requires id/password account); NTIS:
DIALOG (requires id/password account),; Medline:
PubMed; Lexis/Nexis:
Two articles were published on the general deterrent effects of strengthened
transfer laws after the completion of this review. (Steiner B, Hemmens C, Bell
V. Legislative waiver reconsidered: general deterrent effects of statutory exclusions
laws enacted post-1979. Justice Q 2006;23:34–59. Steiner B, Wright E.
Assessing the effects of state direct file waiver laws on violent juvenile crime:
deterrence or irrelevance? J Crim Law Criminology 2006;96:1451–77.)
Although findings from these studies are not included in this review, they are
among the stronger studies regarding the general deterrence effect of increasing
transfer. Both studies used time series methods to examine the effects of
increased statutory exclusion and direct file in individual states. In both
studies, the findings indicate that transfer laws do not promote the general
deterrence of violent crime.

November 30, 2007

ened transfer policy or law; assessed at least one of the specified transfer-related violent outcomes as measured by arrest rates for crimes designated as “violent” (e.g., robbery
or assault); were conducted in a country with a high-income economy¶ (as defined by the World Bank); reported
on a primary study rather than a guideline or review; and
compared a group of persons exposed to the intervention
(i.e., law or policy) with a comparison group that had not
been exposed or who had been less exposed. While searching for evidence, the team also sought information about
effects on other outcomes (i.e., not violence-related), such
as reductions in property crime and disproportionate minority representation among transferred juveniles.
Design suitability was assessed for each candidate study
(those meeting the inclusion criteria). The review team’s
assessment might result in classification of study design
that differs from the nomenclature used by study authors. According to Community Guide nomenclature, greatest design suitability refers to studies with a concurrent
comparison group and prospective data collection; moderate design suitability refers both to retrospective studies
and studies with one pre-intervention and multiple postintervention measurements but no concurrent comparison
group; and least suitable design refers to cross-sectional studies or studies with only single pre- and post-intervention
measurements and no concurrent comparison groups.
Research on specific deterrence uses different study
designs and effect measures than research on general deterrence. In specific deterrence research, studies aim to compare the recidivism (subsequent criminal activity) of youth
transferred to the adult justice system with the recidivism
of youth retained in the juvenile system. Transferring juveniles to the adult criminal justice system might involve a
court with more formal and adversarial procedures, fewer
possibilities of pretrial diversion from court, different
detention alternatives, and different sanctions. In this review,
outcomes of transferred versus retained juveniles were compared, whether or not the juveniles had been found guilty
(or the juvenile court equivalent, adjudicated “delinquent”),
or sanctioned.

High-income economies as defined by the World Bank are Andorra, Antigua
& Barbuda, Aruba, Australia, Austria, Bahamas, Bahrain, Barbados, Belgium,
Bermuda, Brunei Darussalem, Canada, Cayman Islands, Channel Islands,
Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Faeroe Islands, Finland, France,
French Polynesia, Germany, Greece, Greenland, Guam, Hong Kong (China),
Iceland, Ireland, Isle of Man, Israel, Italy, Japan, Republic of Korea, Kuwait,
Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Macao (China), Malta, Monaco, Netherlands,
Netherlands Antilles, New Caledonia, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, Puerto
Rico, Qatar, San Marino, Singapore, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland,
Taiwan (China), United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom, United States, and
U.S. Virgin Islands.

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A major methodologic concern in studies of specific
deterrence is selection bias: transfer to adult criminal court
is typically intended for those youth who are considered to
be more serious offenders. Consequently, transferred youth
would be expected to have greater risk for subsequent
violence, independent of any effect of their experience with
the adult criminal justice system. All of the included studies attempted to control for possible selection bias by
restricting the cases under consideration to serious ones
that would be eligible for transfer and by comparing the
outcomes of cases transferred with those of cases retained
in the juvenile system. In addition, they attempted to
reduce selection bias by one of three methods: 1) by using
statistical methods to control for factors that might affect
transfer decisions (23–25); 2) by matching transferred and
retained juveniles on background characteristics (26,27);
or 3) by comparing the outcomes of juveniles matched on
background demographics, economics, and crime characteristics, but in jurisdictions with difference transfer laws
(28). Because juveniles charged with minor offenses are
unlikely to be transferred, and juveniles charged with
extremely serious offenses are unlikely to be retained, studies that match or otherwise control for severity of criminal
background will probably exclude juveniles at both
In general deterrence research, outcomes are measured in
terms of offending rates in the general population of juveniles (e.g., the number of juveniles per 100,000 arrested
for violent crimes). Comparison groups must necessarily
be in another place or of a different age. Researchers strive
for comparison groups unaffected by the transfer law being
studied but who are otherwise as similar as possible and
similarly affected by many of the other social forces that
influence offending.
The team’s assessment of general deterrence included only
studies that compared rates of violence before and after
implementation of a strengthened transfer policy and used
a separate comparison group. Juvenile offending rates change
over time for many reasons, as evidenced by the dramatic
increase and then decrease in crime in general and in juvenile violence in particular during the late 1980s and early
1990s (29,30). Without comparison groups, any law
enacted during a period of decline in crime would seem to
have a deterrent effect, as indicated by simple before-andafter differences in offending within the same population.
As a result, the team considered comparison groups unaffected by the law to be a critical design feature in evaluating the deterrent effect on crime of this particular law.
The team assessed limitations in the execution of all candidate studies. Limitations included failure to describe


study population, use of proxy rather than direct measures
of violent outcomes (e.g., general offending outcomes [such
as re-arrest] rather than violent offending), and not controlling for background characteristics of transferred and
retained juveniles. This assessment might differ from an
assessment of limitations for the study’s original purposes.
Using Community Guide methods (22), each study could
be coded for as many as nine specific limitations: good
execution refers to studies with one or fewer limitations,
fair execution to studies with 2–4 limitations, and limited
execution to studies with five or more limitations. Studies
with limited execution did not qualify for the review.
Unless otherwise noted, results of each study are presented
as the relative change in violent crime rates attributable to
the interventions. Relative change was calculated as relative percent change using the following formulas:
Effect size = (Ipost/Ipre) / (Cpost/Cpre) – 1
Ipost is the last reported outcome rate in the intervention
group after the intervention;
Ipre is the reported outcome rate in the intervention group
immediately before the intervention;
Cpost is the last reported outcome rate in the comparison
group after the intervention;
Cpre is the reported outcome rate in the comparison group
immediately before the intervention.
In specific deterrence studies, intervention groups were
composed of transferred juveniles, and control groups were
composed of juveniles retained in the juvenile system. In
general deterrence studies, intervention groups were populations of juveniles (e.g., in states or cities) exposed to a
changed transfer policy, and control groups were populations not exposed to such a change.
If results were reported from logistic regression models,
odds ratios were transformed into relative rate changes
(31,32) so that these effect measures could be more appropriately compared with other studies in the body of
evidence.** If effect measures could not be converted into
relative percent changes (e.g., results presented only in
graphs), the reported findings are described in the text. In
the reporting of study findings, the standard two-tailed
p-value of <0.05 was used as a measure of statistical significance.

** RR = OR/ ( (1 – P0) + (P0 x OR)), where RR is the relative risk, OR the odds
ratio to be converted, and P0 is the incidence of the outcome of interest in the
unexposed population (i.e., juveniles retained in the juvenile justice system).



When available, measures adjusted for potential confounders through multivariate analysis were preferred over crude
effect measures. Follow-up periods of <1 year were considered a limitation. When studies included several follow-up
periods, the longest period available was used.
Using standard Community Guide methods (22), the findings of individual studies were aggregated, and the strength
of the body of evidence was summarized on the basis of the
number of available studies, the strength of their design
and execution, and the magnitude and consistency of effects.
For an effect to be considered sufficient evidence of effectiveness, its magnitude must be deemed of public health
importance; statistical significance is generally considered
only when just one study of greatest design suitability and
good execution has qualified for review. Three studies of
moderate design suitability and fair execution can provide
sufficient evidence if findings are consistent in direction
and magnitude. Results deemed sufficient to draw a conclusion are summarized both graphically and statistically.

Specific Deterrence Effects
Six studies were identified that examined the effects of
juvenile transfer on subsequent violent offending (23–28).
All were of greatest design suitability and good execution.
Studies followed juveniles for periods ranging from 18
months (23) to 6 years (27) to assess recidivism. More detailed descriptions and evaluations of these studies are available from the Community Guide’s Violence Prevention
website ( and
have been published elsewhere (20).
In a prospective cohort study, the re-arrest of 400 youth
aged 15–16 years initially arrested in the New York City
metropolitan area during 1981–1982 (where the age of
adult court jurisdiction is age 16 years and where youth
aged 15 years are legislatively excluded from juvenile court
when accused of any of 15 felonies) was compared with
re-arrest of 400 demographically similar youth in counties
in New Jersey (where age 18 years is the age of criminal
responsibility and no legislative exclusion exists) (33). To
enhance the comparability of the two regions, counties were
matched by key crime and socioeconomic indicators (i.e.,
crime and criminal justice, demographic, socioeconomic,
labor force, and housing characteristics). To estimate
recidivism, competing hazard models were used that control for time at risk; age, case length, and sentence length
were included as covariates. The study indicate that, among
those not incarcerated, transferred juveniles were 39% more

November 30, 2007

likely to be re-arrested on a violent offense than were
retained juveniles. Among those incarcerated, exposure to
longer sentences was associated with a further increase in
violent recidivism among those transferred compared with
those who were retained in the juvenile system (28).
Florida’s juvenile transfer laws were evaluated by a team
of researchers in two separate studies of different cohorts
(26,34). The first study compared the overall re-arrest rates
of juveniles who were initially arrested in 1987 and then
either transferred or retained (34). Each youth transferred
to adult court was matched to a youth retained in the juvenile court by six factors (i.e., most serious offense, number
of counts; number of previous referrals to the juvenile system; and most serious previous offense, age, and sex), and,
when possible, by race. The findings indicated that transfer increased recidivism over the short term but over the
longer term reduced recidivism for some transferred juveniles and increased it for others (27). Among youth initially arrested for misdemeanors and for most types of
felonies, the effects of transfer were consistent with findings in the other studies that were reviewed. But among
those initially arrested for felony property crimes, re-arrest
rates were lower for transferred than for retained youth.
The second study essentially replicated the first for youth
arrested following implementation of “stronger” juvenile
laws enacted in Florida in 1990 and 1994 that increased
prosecutorial waiver (26). The outcome compared was
felony re-arrest, including nonviolent and violent felonies.
In this study, the recidivism examined was restricted to
felonies committed after age 18 years, on the grounds that
this would ensure equivalent records of offending. The findings indicated that transferred youth had 34% more felony
re-arrests than retained youth.
A study on the effects of transfer in Hennepin County,
Minnesota, examined all cases in which the prosecutor filed
a motion to transfer a juvenile during 1986–1992 (25,35).
Sixty percent of juveniles for whom the prosecutor filed a
motion to transfer were actually transferred. Recidivism rates
for youth who were transferred were compared with rates
for those who were retained in the juvenile justice system.
The study presented the results of logistic regression analyses
of the effects of transfer on reconviction for violent and
nonviolent crimes combined, controlling for potential confounders, including sex, criminal history, and whether the
case resulted in incarceration. Transfer was associated with
a 26.5% increased likelihood of further criminal conviction over that of retained juveniles (25).
A study in Pennsylvania attempted to anticipate the
effects of new transfer provisions before their implementation in 1996 (24). The study included 557 males aged

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case, previous record of offenses, sex, and ethnicity, no difference in recidivism was found between transferred and
retained juveniles.
Among the six studies reviewed, only one indicated that
transfer of juveniles to the adult justice system deterred commission of subsequent violent or general crimes among a subset of those transferred (27); one study found no effect (23).
The remaining four studies all found an undesirable effect
in which transferred juveniles committed more subsequent
violent or general crime than retained juveniles (24–26,28).
Effect sizes from the individual studies ranged from 0–77%,
and the overall median effect size was a 34% relative increase
in subsequent violent or general crime for transferred juveniles compared with retained juveniles (Figure). According
to the Community Guide’s rules of evidence (22), the review

15–18 years arrested in Pennsylvania in 1994 for robbery,
aggravated assault, or both, involving use of a deadly
weapon. Multivariate analyses controlling for demographics and criminal background indicated that, compared with
419 retained juveniles, transfer of 138 juveniles was associated with a 77% greater likelihood of violent felony arrest
following completion of the sentence.
A study in Washington attempted to determine the
expected effect of the state’s 1994 Violence Reduction Act
as modified by the state legislature in 1997 by examining
the effects of discretionary transfers before implementation
of the new law that excluded from original jurisdiction in
juvenile court youth aged 16–17 years with specified
offending histories or charged with any of nine “serious violent felonies” (23). Controlling for offenses charged in the

FIGURE. Relative change in the percentage of juveniles rearrested after release from the adult as compared with the juvenile
justice system, by selected studies — United States, 1996–2007*
Violent crime rearrest rates,
New York City (28)

Violent felony adjudications or
convictions, Minnesota (35)



Felony recidivism rates,
Florida (26)

Violent felony rearrests,
Pennsylvania (24)

Felony rearrests,
Washington (23)













Relative percent change
* Results of a previous study (27) were not presented here because of complex effect modification by initial offense and other status characteristics.



provides sufficient evidence that the transfer of youth to the
adult criminal justice system typically results in greater subsequent crime, including violent crime, among transferred
youth; therefore, transferring juveniles to the adult system is
counterproductive as a strategy for preventing or reducing

General Deterrence Effects
Three studies evaluated the general deterrence effect of
transfer laws or policies (11,23,36). All three evaluated the
effects of changes to state transfer laws on rates of juvenile
offending, as measured by arrest rates in the general juvenile populations of those states. All were of greatest study
design suitability and fair execution. Effect sizes could not
be computed because the studies provided insufficient data.
More detailed descriptions of the studies included in this
review and how they were evaluated are available at the Community Guide’s Violence Prevention website (http:// and elsewhere (20).
The first study evaluated Washington’s 1994 Violence
Reduction Act, which legislatively excluded from initial
jurisdiction in juvenile court youth aged 16–17 years with
specified offending histories or charged with any of nine “serious violent felonies.” Violent offending among youth aged
10–17 years in Washington peaked in 1994 and then declined,
parallel to the national trend in arrests for violent crime (9,23).
The study concluded that “we cannot attribute the decrease
in juvenile arrests for violent crimes in Washington state solely
to the automatic transfer statutes” (23).
A second study compared changes in offending rates in
Idaho with those in Wyoming and Montana to determine
the deterrent effect of a 1981 Idaho law mandating automatic transfer to the adult criminal justice system of youth
aged 14–18 years charged with any of five violent crimes
(36). Compared with violence in Wyoming and Montana,
the new transfer law was associated with relative increases
in violence in Idaho.
A third study examined monthly arrest rates for youth
aged 13–15 years in New York during 1974–1984 (spanning the change in New York law) on four violent crimes
(i.e., homicide, assault, robbery, and rape) using several
comparison populations. New York City (NYC) was analyzed separately from the rest of the state (11). For NYC,
two comparison populations were examined, neither of
which was subject to the changed transfer legislation. The
first comparison was with offenders in NYC aged 16–19
years who were unaffected by the Juvenile Offender Law
because 16 is the age of adult court jurisdiction in New
York; these youth were too old for the juvenile justice sys-

November 30, 2007

tem. The second comparison was with youth aged 13–15
years in Philadelphia. No consistent pattern of results was
found across offenses. Only rape had a statistically significant decrease for the intervention group, but the NYC comparison group had a larger decrease that also was statistically
significant. The decline was considerably smaller in Philadelphia, suggesting a local effect in NYC that is not attributable to the change in transfer. No consistent pattern of
evidence suggested a general deterrence effect.
According to the Community Guide rules (22), the evidence from these studies is insufficient to determine whether
or not laws or policies facilitating the transfer of juveniles
to the adult criminal justice system are effective in preventing or reducing violence in the general juvenile population. One study of general deterrence reported no apparent
effect (23), one reported heterogeneous effects (11), and
one reported a coun terdeterrent effect (36). Although by
Community Guide standards the number of studies is sufficient for determining effectiveness (i.e., three studies of
greatest design suitability and at least fair execution), study
findings are inconsistent and typically centered on no effect and thus do not permit a conclusion.§

The studies reviewed for this report assessed the effects
of strengthened transfer laws in Washington, Pennsylvania, and regions of New York, Minnesota, and Florida. These
states are geographically and demographically diverse, which
suggests that the findings might apply in other states.
The effects of transfer policies on violence and other crime
across levels of severity of crime for which the juvenile was
initially charged (e.g., misdemeanors or felonies) require
further study. To assure comparability, the reviewed studies control for the severity of the crime for which the juvenile is at risk for being transferred and, where possible, for
the juvenile’s criminal history. These studies did not generally assess whether transfer had different effects for juveniles with more or less serious offenses and offense histories.
Transfer might be more effective or less harmful if restricted
to the most serious offenders. The Florida studies indicated
that a large number of juveniles committing misdemeanors were transferred to adult court and found greater harm
(i.e., recidivism) for these offenders than for juveniles transferred for more serious offenses. In any case, the possibility
of transferring the most serious juvenile offenders was available in all court systems before the strengthening and formalizing of the transfer policies. The changes assessed in
this review have resulted in lowering the thresholds for the
seriousness of crimes for which juveniles are transferred,

Vol. 56 / RR-9

Recommendations and Reports

thereby facilitating transfer. Because of methodologic
controls for juvenile criminal background in studies of specific deterrence, juveniles at the most and least severe ends
of the criminal severity spectrum are probably not included
in these studies. Therefore, inferences from these studies
should exclude these extremes.
The findings in this report indicate that transfer policies
have generally resulted in increased arrest for subsequent
crimes, including violent crime, among juveniles who were
transferred compared with those retained in the juvenile
justice system. To the extent that transfer policies are implemented to reduce violent or other criminal behavior, available evidence indicates that they do more harm than good.

Research Needs
Although the Task Force has recommended against transfer of juveniles to the adult criminal justice system to prevent or reduce violence, transfer policies are still in effect,
and the following important research issues remain:
• The experiences of youth in both juvenile and adult
systems should be explored by comparing the experiences of youth sentenced to juvenile and adult sanctions (37,38) and assessing factors that might reduce
(e.g., exposure to rehabilitation or interaction with caring
mentors) or increase (e.g., exposure to adult offenders)
further violence (38–40).
— Do youth receive more rehabilitative programming
in juvenile institutions than in adult institutions?
— Has the programming in adult corrections changed
in response to the influx of youthful offenders?
— Do youth in adult correctional institutions have
extensive contact with adult offenders and, if so, does
that have negative effects on them or promote more
subsequent offenses?
• The effects of variations among state laws have not been
assessed systematically, limiting the ability to generalize review findings. Systematic comparison of state provisions to determine whether the transfer policies of
the states included in the review are representative of
all state transfer provisions could support the
generalizability of the review’s findings.
Little research has been conducted on the economic costs
of transferring youth to the adult criminal justice system
versus retaining them in the juvenile system (41). In some
sense, evaluating costs of interventions (e.g., transfer) that
cause net harm seems counterintuitive; ideally, spending
that results in increased violence and additional societal
costs should be discouraged. However, documenting the
variability and relative costs of the two judicial and correc-


tional systems, the distribution of responsibility for these
costs across different levels of government and society, and
the net balance of program costs, the costs of subsequent
crime, and the costs of opportunities lost to the juveniles
themselves might allow a constructive discussion of the
economic consequences of change.

Use of the Recommendations
The findings of this review might encourage discussion
among legislators and others interested in juvenile justice
about the societal and economic costs and benefits of juvenile transfer laws and policies. This review, along with the
Task Force on Community Preventive Services’ recommendation against juvenile transfer laws, provides guidance for
public health and juvenile justice policy makers, program
planners and implementers, and researchers.
The findings in this report are subject to at least four
limitations. First, transfer laws and policies vary substantially from state to state. The studies reviewed for this
report were the only ones that met Community Guide standards and might not be representative of transfer laws in
all states. Second, the outcome measures in all these studies result from official records of offending (either arrest or
conviction) rather than direct measures of offending (e.g.,
robbery or aggravated assault). The majority of crimes do
not result in an arrest (1,42), and certain wrongful arrests
are made. Nevertheless, although arrest rates might reflect
law enforcement activity as much or more than juvenile
criminal behavior, they are among the best available and
most commonly used indicators of crime (43) and thus the
best available outcome for assessment in this review.
Third, the heterogeneity of laws across jurisdictions and
populations studied and the impossibility of conducting
experimental trials to evaluate such policies as transfer laws
makes controlling for potential confounding difficult. The
six specific deterrence studies reviewed have used several
approaches to control for confounding, including matched
pairs within jurisdictions; cross-jurisdictional comparisons
with control of social, demographic, and criminological
variables; and simple graphical comparison across jurisdictions. The convergence of results across these studies suggests that increased violent recidivism following transfer is
a robust finding.
Finally, the relevance of the findings might be questioned
because of the age of the studies reviewed (study cohorts
were arrested during 1981–1996). However, the consistency of findings over a substantial period, during which
patterns of violent crime varied greatly, suggests the persistence of the phenomenon reported.



Review of the effects of transfer laws on subsequent violence indicates that the experience of transfer to the adult
criminal justice system is associated with subsequent violence among juvenile participants when compared with violence among juveniles retained in the juvenile justice system.
In addition, little evidence supports the idea that transfer
laws deter juveniles in the general population from violent
crime. These policies might be favored by policymakers or
the public for other reasons (e.g., societal retribution in
response to serious crime or incapacitation of serious
offenders). However, the review indicates that use of transfer laws and strengthened transfer policies is counterproductive to reducing juvenile violence and enhancing public

The authors are grateful for the comments and information supplied
by Melissa Sickmund, PhD, National Center for Juvenile Justice,
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and to Steven D. Levitt, University of
Chicago, for discussion of his study of a related topic.
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