TRANSFER TO ADULT COURT: A National Study of How Juvenile Court Judges Weigh Pertinent Kent Criteria

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Abstract

Evaluation of juvenile offenders considered for transfer to adult court entails consideration of three factors: (a) potential risk of dangerousness, (b) level of sophistication–maturity, and (c) treatment amenability. Despite the centrality of these concepts to dispositional decision making, virtually no information or guidelines exist describing how juvenile court judges or mental health professionals should weigh these constructs when making vivid line distinctions with respect to transfer. The authors asked judges (N = 361) from the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges to examine a hypothetical case that varied the level of dangerousness, sophistication–maturity, and treatment amenability. Results showed that dangerousness and sophistication–maturity had a significant impact on transfer, whereas amenability to treatment did not. Policy implications for this important area of law and psychology are threefold: (a) Although individualized assessments may be preferred, key to such evaluations are specific guidelines for weighing Kent criteria; (b) eventually, a national standard should be adopted to outline how to weigh criteria and to reduce disparity across states; and (c) psychologists should continue to refine juvenile assessment technology and ultimately the information they provide courts.

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