"Broken Windows" Policing

Wilson and Kelling (in Cole & Gertz, 2013) discuss the concept of the “broken windows” theory which, in summary, posits that disorderly or unruly behaviors left unchecked lead to greater disorder and, possibly, criminal behavior. In an effort to maintain order in a neighborhood, and thus attempt to mitigate or reduce potential criminal behaviors, police officers often utilize their authority to remove potential threats to order through charges with little legal meaning such as “suspicious person,” “vagrancy,” or “public drunkenness” (Wilson & Kelling, in Cole & Gertz, 2013). The decriminalization of such behaviors, or the cessation of treating such behaviors as illegal, removes an invaluable tool from law enforcement officials in maintaining order within neighborhoods and, by extension, invites a rise in disorder that could lead to increased criminal activity. In short, Wilson and Kelling’s (in Cole & Gertz, 2013) declaration that the decriminalization of disreputable behavior is a mistake is accurate.

In order to better understand why Wilson and Kelling are correct in their assertion, a more in-depth look at the “broken windows” theory is first necessary. In 1969, Philip Zimbardo conducted experiments to test the broken-window theory. He arranged to have an automobile without license plates with its hood up placed in the Bronx, and a comparable vehicle placed in Palo Alto, California (Wilson & Kelling, in Cole & Gertz, 2013). Vandals attacked the vehicle in the Bronx within ten minutes, and everything of value was stripped within twenty-four hours; random destruction of the vehicle began shortly afterward (Wilson & Kelling, in Cole & Gertz, 2013). The vehicle in Palo Alto remained untouched for more than a week, until Zimbardo smashed part of the vehicle in with a sledgehammer; within a few hours, the vehicle had been turned upside down and destroyed (Wilson & Kelling, in Cole & Gertz, 2013).

Zimbardo’s experiment highlights the core idea behind the broken-window theory: one broken window, if left untended, indicates a lack of concern about a location and invites more broken windows. Similarly, one undeterred panhandler in a neighborhood becomes the first “broken window,” and if law enforcement or concerned citizens cannot keep a single panhandler from annoying passersby then opportunistic criminals may believe their chances of being caught or identified in such a neighborhood are greatly diminished (Wilson & Kelling, in Cole & Gertz, 2013).

There are, of course, concerns that the utilization of the aforementioned charges to maintain order within a neighborhood may infringe on an individual’s rights or be applied inequitably by police officers. According to Wilson and Kelling (in Cole & Gertz, 2013), there may be agreement on certain behaviors that male a person undesirable, but there must also be assurance that age, skin color, national origin, harmless mannerisms, or other such factors do not become the basis for distinguishing between undesirable and desirable persons within a neighborhood. There is not a wholly satisfactory answer to such a concern, aside from the hope that the selection, training, and supervision of police officers results in a clear sense of the limit of their discretionary authority (Wilson & Kelling, in Cole & Gertz, 2013).

The broken-window theory suggests that minor disturbances and undesirable behaviors in a neighborhood, if left unchecked, lead to greater disorder and potentially criminal behavior. Such behaviors also create a sense of fear in residents of those neighborhoods, which leads to people avoiding one another and weakening controls in the neighborhood (Wilson & Kelling, in Cole & Gertz, 2013) and thus inviting further disorder. By utilizing charges of “suspicious person,” “vagrancy,” and “public drunkenness” police officers are able to help maintain order and, subsequently, reduce fear and the potential for crime legally. To decriminalize such behaviors would reduce the ability of police officers to assist neighborhoods in maintaining order, and would certainly be a mistake.


Cole, G. & M. Gertz (eds.) (2012). The criminal justice system: Politics and policies, 10th ed. Belmont, CA: West/Wadsworth.

Worrall, J. (2008). Crime control in America: What works? 2nd ed. Boston: Pearson.

The Efficient and Effective Use of Investigators


The efficient and effective use of detectives and detective resources to investigate criminal offenses is strongly influenced by the policies and practices surrounding case assignment to investigators. By first understanding the nature and effectiveness of investigative operations, a clearer picture of how the assignment of cases affects police outputs and outcomes emerges. In addition, the subsequent understanding that it is not only inefficient, but also ineffective, to assign all unsolved cases to detectives provides practical insight for police administrators to utilize in developing strategies for case assignment polices.

Although variations in activities performed by investigators will be evident across differing departments, Chaiken et al. (1977) found that an approximation of ninety-three percent of investigators' time is spent on activities that are not directly related to solving previously reported crimes, based on the Kansas City Police Department's case assignments. Through an examination of the aforementioned cases, reviews with investigators from other cities, and comparisons to their own study's observational notes, Chaiken et al. (1977) conclude that the aforementioned approximation of time applies to other departments as well. It is therefore imperative to understand what activities comprise the bulk of investigators' time. Roughly forty-five percent of investigators' time is spent on activities such as administrative assignments, traveling, general surveillance, and making speeches, which are not case-specific activities; another twenty-two percent of investigators' time, again roughly estimated, is spent on crimes that are never solved (Chaiken et al., 1977). This leaves an estimated thirty-three percent of investigators' time spent on cases that are solved, but of that total about twenty-six percent is spent on work related to cleared cases after they have been solved, which includes preparing cases for court (Chaiken et al., 1977).

While much of the aforementioned data on the percentages of time investigators spend on certain activities provides insights into potential organizational restructuring and reallocation of duties to increase the effectiveness of detectives, that is beyond the scope of this article; recognizing and understanding that approximately seven percent of investigators' time is spent actually performing investigative work, and that twenty-two percent of their time is spent on cases that go unsolved, clearly illustrates that the structure and determination of case assignments significantly impacts investigators' outputs. Further, a significant amount of the time spent on unsolved crimes could theoretically be reallocated to increasing investigator effectiveness through strategic case assignment practices. Before examining case assignment practices, however, it is necessary to first understand the strongest indicator of whether or not a case will be solved: information.

The availability and reliability of information received by police about incidents and offenders directly impacts the ability of police officers to solve crimes and identify and apprehend those who commit crimes (Skogan and Antunes, 1979). In fact, as cited by Skogan and Antunes (1979), the RAND Corporation concluded an analysis of the criminal investigation process in 1975 with the finding that the information a victim supplies to the responding patrol officer is the single most important determinant of whether a case will be solved; if information that uniquely identifies the offender is not supplied, the likelihood of the perpetrator being identified is reduced exponentially. Brandl and Frank (1994) provide further support for the conclusion that the amount and quality of information available to the police is of paramount importance in their study of burglary and robbery cases assigned to investigators in a Midwestern municipal police department from July 1, 1989 through June 30, 1990, though it should be noted that their study was aimed at identifying the impact of time spent on cases compared to the amount of information available.

Identifying the significant findings of Brandl and Frank’s (1994) analysis plays a key role in understanding how case assignment practices impact the efficiency and effectiveness of investigators, especially when examined in conjunction with Eck’s (1992) triage hypothesis. Eck (1992) posited that cases may be divided into three groups, though the groups most likely represent a range along a continuum: 1) cases that cannot be solved with a reasonable investigative effort, 2) cases solved by circumstance, which only require proper follow-up activities by police, and 3) cases that may be solved with a reasonable investigative effort but that will not be solved otherwise. Combined with Brandl and Frank’s (1994) finding that cases wherein moderate information about a suspect is available the probability of an arrest increased significantly with more investigative time, as well as the finding that investigators spent more time on cases with moderate suspect information available than on cases where information was strong or weak, Eck’s (1992) triage hypothesis provides a solid framework from which case assignment strategies may be devised.

Using Eck’s (1992) triage hypothesis as a guideline, case assignments may be distributed to investigators or specialized teams based on a number of factors: the type of criminal offense, the amount of information available about the perpetrator(s), and whether the specialized knowledge and training of a detective is necessary or if routine follow-up is all that is required to close the case. This not only serves the purpose of increasing efficiency through the reallocation of police resources, such as utilizing clerical support staff in documenting and filing away an unsolvable case, but also significantly increases the effectiveness of investigative personnel by only being assigned cases that possess some measure of potential solvability, except as noted below. Understanding the impact of such a system is best understood through an analysis of Chaiken et al.’s (1977) findings on which actions investigators are typically assigned may be shifted to other personnel.

Patrol officers who are trained as generalist-investigators, according to Chaiken et al. (1977), may be utilized to supplement investigative activities and shift some responsibilities that do not require specialized investigative skills away from detectives, thereby freeing up the time of detectives for devotion to cases wherein some suspect information is known but the case is not solvable without an investment of effort. Such responsibilities would include the apprehension of suspects in cases where the identity of the perpetrator or perpetrators is known at the time of the crime as well as routine investigative actions such as listing stolen automobiles in the “hot car” file, asking victims to look through previously assembled mug shot collections, awaiting calls with further information from the public, and tracing ownership of weapons utilized in crimes; further, for cases where little or no information is available about an offender, generalist-investigators may serve the public relations duty of demonstrating that the police care about the victim and the crime without tying up the time of detectives (Chaiken et al., 1977).

The aforementioned generalist-investigator function would directly relate to Eck’s (1992) triage hypothesis by assigning cases solved by circumstance to support personnel within the police department, allowing the other two groups of cases to be assigned to specialized divisions. One such division, the Major Offenses Unit as defined by Chaiken et al. (1977), would receive all unsolved serious crime cases, both belonging to Eck’s (1992) unsolvable cases group and the solvable with investigative effort group. The assignment of unsolvable cases to a specialized unit may seem counterintuitive, however this would serve the function of ensuring that all major crimes receive attention in an effort to both demonstrate that the police care about those crimes that most severely impact the public, and the assurance that any later leads on unsolved cases that may be discovered through the investigation of other crimes will not be overlooked as a result of separate case assignments among individual investigators.

Finally, using a similar approach as the aforementioned Major Offenses Unit and drawing upon the research of Skogan and Antunes (1979) regarding increasing police productivity, traditional detectives would be assigned to policing teams, additionally comprised of patrol officers and generalist-investigators, who would be responsible for all police activities within a specified geographic area, with the exception of those cases that would be transferred to the Major Offense Unit. These teams would be assigned all non-serious crimes that fall into Eck’s (1992) solvable with investigative effort category, while those crimes that are deemed unsolvable are shifted to clerical support staff for documentation and filing. Naturally some overlap could occur, since the generalist-investigators and patrol officers in these teams would also be working on those cases solvable by circumstance, but this would serve the important responsibility of providing detectives more time to focus on those crimes within their assigned regions that may be solvable with investigative effort.

Although imperfect, the proposed modifications in utilizing detective resources and time, as well as that of support personnel, present a step forward in increasing efficiency and effectiveness, thereby contributing directly to investigators’ outputs. Police administrators seeking to strategically restructure case assignment policies will be well served to utilize Eck’s (1992) triage hypothesis and Brandl and Frank’s (1994) supporting work as a framework from which justification for the reassignment of cases to either support personnel, generalist-investigators, detectives working in policing teams, or a Major Offenses Unit is clearly illustrated.


Brandl, S. and Frank, J. (1994) The Relationship Between Evidence, Detective Effort, and the Disposition of Burglary and Robbery Investigations, American Journal of Police, 13: 149‑168.

Chaiken, J.M., Greenwood, P.W., & Petersilia, J. (1977). The Criminal Investigation Process: A Summary Report, Policy Analysis, 3:187-218.

Eck, J. (1992). “Criminal Investigation” in Donna Hale and Gary Cordner (eds.) What Works in Policing (Cincinnati: Anderson Publishing) pp. 19-34.

Skogan, W. G., and Antunes, G. E. "Information, Apprehension and Deterrence: Exploring the Limits of Police Productivity," in David Bayley (ed.) What Works in Policing. (Cincinnati: Anderson Publishing) Chapter 4, pp. 108-137

Moving Forward: Utilizing a Developmental Model in the Juvenile Justice System

The developmental model of juvenile justice advocated by Scott and Steinberg (2008) identifies major guiding principles necessary for successful reform of the juvenile court and, listed with the concerns they are designed to address, are as follows: 1) the implementation of proportionate sentences with sufficiently narrow ranges in order to promote fairness and limit possible abuses due to bias as a result of broad judicial or prosecutorial discretion, 2) restrictive transfer rules that enable the juvenile court to maintain jurisdiction over the majority of adolescents in an effort to minimize the potential harm exposure to the criminal court poses on adolescent offenders' development, 3) the implementation of empirically supported treatment programs in conjunction with punitive sanctions that promote healthy development of youth in all jurisdictions, 4) intensive interventions in the lives of very young serious offenders to hopefully successfully intervene in the potential development of chronic, serious offenders, 5) and extended dispositional jurisdiction over youth entering the juvenile justice system at a later age in order to maintain fairness in sentencing as well as the application of proportionate punitive sanctions. The reforms suggested are not a drastic departure from the traditional juvenile court, but include significant changes in policy and procedure designed to remedy the shortcomings of its original implementation. At the same time, these guidelines are a significant departure from the recent focus on purely punitive sanctioning models prevalent in the contemporary juvenile justice system.

It should be noted that these proposed guidelines do present their own set of limitations. Some youth possess a history of antisocial behavior and do not fit within the normal pattern of adolescent offending that is driven by developmental influences (Scott and Steinberg, 2008). These youth may enter the justice system facing serious charges and may have a substantial criminal record by mid-adolescence; though such youth represent a very small percentage of youthful offenders, they pose a significant threat to public safety and do not fit the developmental model advocated thus far (Scott and Steinberg, 2008). Scott and Steinberg (2008) acknowledge that successful identification and intervention in the lives of these youth poses a daunting challenge, and the potential for disproportionate sentencing and excessive punishment is inherent in such interventions, especially if the same programs utilized are not available to all youth. While a single model for the juvenile court will not yield positive outcomes for all youth, the developmental model aims to provide a framework of stable, satisfactory responses to juvenile delinquency that promotes the social welfare of youth while holding adolescents accountable, although to a lesser degree than adults, for their actions.

The examination of the developmental model above raises an interesting question: in light of the shift to contemporary policies and practices in juvenile justice, are political leaders, practitioners, and the public willing to take a different approach to juvenile justice? Interestingly enough, many state legislatures are already moving toward more moderate policies as the high economic costs of recent reforms and the impact of harsher sanctions for such young offenders begin to be realized (Scott and Steinberg, 2008). Further, research by Scott and Steinberg (2008) shows that public attitudes toward juvenile justice are hardened immediately after a highly publicized offense, but soften and trend more toward rehabilitation after some time passes. In fact, surveys consistently indicate that the preferences of the public align more with the proposals presented by the developmental model presented than with the current, contemporary regime (Scott and Steinberg, 2008).

Support for the developmental model is further emphasized by recent news throughout the United States. On June 25, 2012, the Supreme Court barred mandatory life sentences for juveniles convicted of murder, indicating a shift in viewing youthful felons from irredeemable predators to victims of circumstance that possess the potential for rehabilitation (Bronner, 2012). A report published in June 2013 identified nine states that previously incarcerated youth at high rates that have enacted policies that shift the majority of young offenders toward community interventions (Rosales, 2013). Some states have reversed changes that lowered the age at which youthful offenders were automatically transferred to the criminal court, including Connecticut, a state that once sent the highest number of juveniles to the adult court (Chen, 2010). Georgia legislators unanimously passed major reforms implementing new sentencing laws that keep non-violent drug and property offenders out of prison and directing them to intervention programs and graduated scales of punishment, and are looking to do something similar for the juvenile justice system (The Economist, 2013). Finally, in Illinois, the state most credit with the establishment of the juvenile court, the Illinois Juvenile Justice Commission published a report condemning the state youth prison system and finding that the majority of incarcerated young offenders would be better served in treatment or educational programs (NPR, 2012).

It is evident that the traditional model of the juvenile justice system was ineffective in dealing with the problem of adolescent crime. It is just as evident that the contemporary approach to punitive sanctions and incarceration has been ineffective in remedying the shortcomings of the traditional model. The developmental model advocated by Scott and Steinberg (2008) provides a framework to address the shortcomings of the traditional model with regards to accountability and responsibility of youthful offenders, while also promoting the social welfare of juveniles and basing sentencing and disposition on empirically supported treatments and interventions. Further supporting the work of Scott and Steinberg (2008), recent reforms and research on public preferences and perspectives align with the guidelines advocated by the developmental model of juvenile justice.


Scott, E., & Steinberg, L. (2008). Rethinking Juvenile Justice. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Bronner, E. (2012, June 26). News Analysis - Ruling Reflects Rethinking on Juvenile Justice - NYTimes.com. Retrieved June 22, 2013, from http://www.nytimes.com/2012/06/27/us/news-analysis-ruling-reflects-rethinking-on-juvenile-justice.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0

Chen, S. (2010, January 15). States rethink 'adult time for adult crime' - CNN.com. Retrieved June 22, 2013, from http://www.cnn.com/2010/CRIME/01/15/connecticut.juvenile.ages/index.html#cnnSTCText

The Economist (2013, February 2). Juvenile justice: Suffer the children | The Economist. Retrieved June 22, 2013, from http://www.economist.com/news/united-states/21571176-georgia-rethinks-how-its-justice-system-deals-young-offenders-suffer-children

NPR (2012, April 18). Kids Behind Bars: Illinois Rethinks Juvenile Justice : NPR. Retrieved June 22, 2013, from http://www.npr.org/2012/08/18/159131971/illinois-seeks-new-approach-to-juvenile-justice

Rosalas, C. (2013, June 18). Report singles out 9 states, including Texas, for turnaround in adopting policies to reduce youth incarceration | Crime Blog. Retrieved June 22, 2013, from http://crimeblog.dallasnews.com/2013/06/report-singles-out-9-states-including-texas-for-turnaround-in-adopting-policies-to-reduce-youth-incarceration.html/

Balancing Individualized Treatment with Legislative Restrictions in the JJS

Balancing individualized, offender-based treatments with the need for consistency and proportionate sanctions has been a subject of ongoing debate and criticism regarding the juvenile court. In an effort to maintain balance between these two goals, sentencing guidelines and systems of graduated sanctions with targeted treatment have been enacted within the juvenile justice system in various jurisdictions. The question still remains, however, of whether these approaches help maintain the aforementioned balance, and at what expense?

Many states have enacted guidelines for graduated sanctioning systems, modeled to a considerable extent on the Comprehensive Strategy released by the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) to provide offense-based, tiered levels of increasingly stricter sanctions while also suggesting rehabilitative strategies where appropriate, in an effort to maintain individualized sanctioning of youthful offenders and to emphasize the need for, and use of, risk and needs assessments (Mears, 2002). In similar fashion, and to a large extent the same mentality behind the development of the Comprehensive Strategy, graduated sanctions and incentives are key components of many intervention programs (Kurlychek, 1999).

In conjunction with the aforementioned guidelines, sentencing guides also play a major role in the determination of treatment for youth adjudicated delinquent in the juvenile court. These guides aim to provide consistent and proportionate sanctions against offenders brought before the juvenile court in an effort to reduce or eliminate the potential for abuse of the discretionary authority of juvenile court judges, especially in light of research indicating that the court could be used to provide a form of social control over various targeted populations (Mears, 2002). According to Mears (2002), these guidelines are voluntary in some states, are mandatory in others, and in some states incentives are provided to promote use of the guidelines.

Taken together, sentencing guidelines and the implementation of graduated sanctions that include targeted treatment could provide a framework that assists the juvenile justice system in maintaining balance between individualized treatment and sanctioning, consistency and proportionality in sentencing, and balancing the community needs for retribution, incapacitation of serious and chronic offenders, and specific and general deterrence. However, this balance is not evident in practice with current sentencing guidelines. Most state guideline systems utilize offense-based criteria for the determination of sanctions to be applied, and the priority often shifts from addressing the needs of the offender to punitive sanctions (Mears, 2002). In fact, with sentencing guidelines in many jurisdictions, prosecutors become the determiner of whether and how to file charges, and often that discretion is coupled with legislative action in jurisdictions that impose automatic sanctions for specific offenses (Mears, 2002). This shift in discretion to prosecutors effectively eliminates the ability of the juvenile court to balance the needs of the offender, the circumstances surrounding the offense, and potential risk of re-offending when sentencing occurs.

As evident in the information provided, sanctioning guidelines are not effective in providing balanced, individualized sanctions for youthful offenders, though they do provide consistency in sanctioning within jurisdictions. A system of graduated sanctions that is coupled with targeted treatment for youthful offenders, however, is both recommended and empirically supported as a response for the treatment of juvenile offenders according to Kurlychek (1999), and as noted by the research-based, data-driven, and outcome-focused approach and success of the comprehensive strategy developed by the OJJDP (Howell, 2003). Utilizing these two systems together, and providing some discretion to the juvenile court during disposition of a case in order to lessen automatic sanctions against first time offenders or those unlikely to re-offend, creates a framework that can be applied across jurisdictions without irrevocably negatively impacting the life course of those offenders found to be less culpable during the time within which they are subject to the authority of the juvenile court.

It should also be noted, however, that reliance solely on systems of graduated sanctions is not a perfect approach. While considerable progress has been made in the identification of major risk factors that lead to delinquent behavior (and therefore influence the nature and focus of recommendations for the rehabilitative components found within systems of graduated sanctions and targeted treatments) much of the research on protective factors, as well as longitudinal studies that will provide more accurate information about the causes of delinquency than cross-sectional studies to date, is still in its infancy (Howell, 2003). With additional research and study, these components can be added to risk and needs assessment tools to further enhance and modify guidelines for use by the juvenile justice system in promoting effectively balanced, consistent, and proportionate sentencing of youthful offenders that encompasses each of the goals of the juvenile court while maintaining the rehabilitative and targeted, individualized treatment component.


Howell, J.C. (2003). Diffusing research into practice using the comprehensive strategy for serious, violent, and chronic juvenile offenders. Youth Violence & Juvenile Justice 1: 219-245.

Kurlychek, M., Torbet, P., & Boznyski, M. (1999). Focus on Accountability: Best Practices for Juvenile Court and Probation. U.S Department of Justice, Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, Washington DC.

Mears, D. (2002). Sentencing guidelines and transformation of juvenile justice in the 21st century. Journal of Contemporary Criminal Justice 18: 6-19.

Effectiveness of Juvenile Transfer to Criminal Court

Juveniles may be transferred to the criminal court system in one of six assorted methods: judicial waiver by the juvenile court judge, prosecutorial waiver in jurisdictions where the prosecutor has filing discretion, statutory exclusion due to legislation requiring youth of certain ages charged with certain offenses being excluded from juvenile court, legislative action wherein states set an age lower than eighteen years of age as the boundary for criminal court, youth who are no longer subject to parental authority (such as by marriage) are automatically transferred to criminal court but may be referred back to juvenile court, and through blended sentencing wherein juvenile and adult sanctions can be imposed by one court (McGowan et al., 2007). The goal of these assorted transfer mechanisms, aside from holding youth more responsible for offenses committed, lies in the philosophy that stricter punitive sanctions would act as specific and general deterrents by requiring adolescents to be subject to the harsher and more adversarial experiences of criminal court and sentencing. There are, however, significant harms caused by the automatic transfer of large groups of juveniles to the criminal court based on age or offense alone, and research indicates that the theoretical basis for deterrence as a result of transfer results in either no effect on youth via general deterrence, or a negative effect on youth in cases of specific deterrence (McGowan et al., 2007, Fagan, 2008).

McGowan et al. (2007) found that only one of five studies reported any evidence that transfer of juveniles to the adult system deterred either violent or other re-offending, and the other four studies identified a harmful effect in which juveniles transferred to adult court committed more subsequent violent and total crime than retained juveniles. Further supporting these findings, Fagan (2008) reports that rates of juvenile offending are not lower in states where the transfer of juveniles to criminal court is more commonplace than in other states.

With the aforementioned points in mind, turning to an assessment of the risks inherent in the current transfer policies of juvenile offenders may shed light on why transfer policies have had little to no affect on deterring juvenile crime. Perhaps the most significant issue, especially with regards to legislative or prosecutorial methods of transfer wherein the determination for transfer lies solely on age of the offender or offense committed, lies in the transfer of not just those youth whose crimes and reoffending risks merit more punitive sanctions, but also in the transfer of youth who are not chronic or serious offenders or whose risk of reoffending is significantly low, and who are subsequently negatively impacted by their exposure to the criminal court system (Fagan, 2008).

A related issue is the transfer of youth under the age of eighteen years of age, again through legislative action that automatically transfers these youth based on age or offense, into the criminal court system. Empirically supported research has shown that adolescents under the age of sixteen lack the competence to understand and participate in the judicial system and make judgments comparable to adults found incompetent to stand trial (McGowan et al., 2007). Further, Cauffman and Steinberg (2012) report that brain development, especially in those systems responsible for controlling many aspects of social and emotional maturity, continues through late adolescence and into early adulthood. Many states have enacted laws lowering the age of legal responsibility for specific offenses below the aforementioned ages, which results in the immediate wholesale transfer of many offenders who possess traits that reduce culpability and, theoretically, increase potential risk of negative impacts from being transferred into the criminal court system.

From an examination of the above points it seems clear that returning the selection of youth to transfer to criminal court to juvenile court judges would be most prudent, along with defining eligibility for transfer on more criteria than age or offense alone (Fagan, 2008). However, as noted by Kupchik (2003), the differences between the processing of cases between the criminal court and the juvenile court is not as significant as commonly believed, and therefore may not account for the apparent ineffectiveness of transfer policy alone on deterring criminal offenses. In fact, in the analysis of a single court in New York City, Kupchik (2003) found that the same philosophy that guided the creation of the juvenile court was utilized by the criminal court “part” (a separate court designed to exclusively handle youthful offenders but remaining an extension of the adult criminal court) in sentencing offenders.

It is this last piece of data that makes it difficult to answer whether transfer policies should be eliminated, though it is apparent that modifying transfer policies is absolutely necessary in order to promote a socially responsible and just approach to adolescent crime. Fagan (2008) summarily states it best in saying that discretionary transfer, as opposed to wholesale transfer, would minimize harm by limiting the number of adolescents subjected to the criminal court, identify youth whose malleability and proclivity to reform warrants juvenile court intervention, and maintain proportional punishment for offenders whose crimes are too serious to be handled by the juvenile court.


Cauffman, E., & Steinberg, L. (2012). Emerging findings from research on adolescent development and juvenile justice. Victims & Offenders 7: 428-449.

McGowan, A., Hahn, R., Liberman, A., Crosby, A. et al. (2007). Effects on violence of laws and policies facilitating the transfer of juveniles from the juvenile justice system to the adult justice system: A systematic review. American Journal of Preventive Medicine 32: S7–S28.

Fagan, J. (2008). Juvenile crime and criminal justice: resolving border disputes. Future of Children 18: 81-118.

Kupchik, A. (2003). Prosecuting adolescents in criminal court: Criminal or juvenile justice? Social Problems 50: 439-460

Developmental Immaturity and Culpability in Juvenile Justice

The juvenile justice system was founded on the intuitive idea that youthful offenders were developmentally different from adults and, therefore, the system required a different approach to intervention and treatment of youths who commit delinquent or criminal acts. Recent studies by Scott and Steinberg (2008) and Cauffman and Steinberg (2012), as well as Supreme Court decisions in Roper v. Simmons, Graham v. Florida, and Miller v. Alabama, have provided compelling evidence and support for the concept of developmental immaturity resulting in reduced culpability of adolescent offenders. Understanding the information provided in the aforementioned sources yields interesting insights surrounding the impact to juvenile justice policy and practice.

Two broad theories have been posed to evaluate the blameworthiness of offenders in American criminal law doctrine: choice theory and character theory (Scott and Steinberg, 2008). Choice theory can best be summarized by the notion that a person who commits a criminal act is fully responsible and deserves full punishment if they are capable of rational thought and have a fair opportunity to not engage in the criminal act. Using an offender’s general social standing, prior history, and related psychological and psychosocial information to show that engaging in a criminal act is abnormal, and therefore not the result of deficient moral character, best summarizes character theory. According to Scott and Steinberg (2008), both theoretical frameworks support the idea that adolescents are less culpable for criminal offenses as a result of poorer decision-making skills and constrained opportunities to avoid criminogenic environments (i.e. choice theory), and adolescents are also in a state of developmental flux wherein their moral character is not fully formed (i.e. character theory).

Further expounding on the aforementioned ideas, Cauffman and Steinberg (2012) explain that brain systems responsible for controlling many aspects of social and emotional maturity continue development throughout adolescence and into adulthood, and recent work in developmental neuroscience has linked both physiological and functional markers in brain development with the aforementioned psychological changes. These developmental changes support the idea that adolescents, as a group, are less culpable based on the theoretical frameworks outlined by choice theory and character theory because of the unique manner in which humans mature. Additional support for reduced culpability of adolescents has been presented in U.S. Supreme Court rulings in Roper v. Simmons, Graham v. Florida, and Miller v. Alabama. In each of the aforementioned cases, the Court has ruled that youthful offenders possess diminished responsibility on the basis of immaturity and vulnerability to negative influences, as well as greater potential for reform due to the changeability of their character.

One final point that should be made with regard to understanding developmental differences in adolescents revolves around current practices of incarceration and transfer to adult court. Cauffman and Steinberg (2012) report that trying adolescents as adults or submitting them to harsh sanctions does little to deter delinquent behavior, and may actually have negative effects on youths' mental stability and health, psychosocial development, and proclivity for further antisocial behavior. Keeping the key points outlined above in mind, it becomes imperative to ask the following question: what does this mean for current and future juvenile justice policy and practice?

According to Cauffman and Steinberg (2012), studies of adolescent development should not be utilized as a single point of reference for “solving” the issue of juvenile delinquency. However, informed responses to juvenile offending as a result of understanding the lessons of developmental science allows the juvenile justice system to respond to youthful offenders in developmentally appropriate ways that will not harm their future prospects by treating adolescents as adults (Cauffman and Steinberg, 2012). In fact, Cauffman and Steinberg (2012) go on to explicitly state that no single policy regime will provide positive outcomes for all adolescents entering into the juvenile court system, but understanding and utilizing developmental research as a guide will provide a strong foundation for policies and practices that enhance public safety by implementing effective treatments for adolescents instead of ineffective punitive sanctions.

The supporting evidence is overwhelmingly conclusive that adolescents are developmentally different from adults in ways that mitigate culpability. Continuing to study these differences, and using that knowledge to influence policies and practices in juvenile justice, remains crucial to the success of the juvenile justice system. As evidenced by the Supreme Court rulings referenced above, it is also critical in maintaining fair and just sanctions for adolescents who become subjected to the adult court system. In short, the principle of proportionality and its direct relation to culpability, as have been long established in criminal law, must be upheld in accordance with developmental differences among all offenders, not just the mentally incompetent or handicapped.


Cauffman, E., & Steinberg, L. (2012). Emerging findings from research on adolescent development and juvenile justice. Victims & Offenders 7: 428-449.

Scott, E. S., & Steinberg, L. (2008). Rethinking Juvenile Justice. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press

Graham v. Florida and Sullivan v. Florida. (n.d.). American Psychological Association (APA). Retrieved May 30, 2013, from http://www.apa.org/about/offices/ogc/amicus/graham.aspx

Miller v. Alabama and Jackson v. Hobbs . (n.d.). American Psychological Association (APA). Retrieved May 30, 2013, from http://www.apa.org/about/offices/ogc/amicus/miller-hobbs.aspx

Development and Philosophy of the Juvenile Court

The juvenile justice system has been critiqued and criticized numerous times since its inception. Examining the works of Mack (1909), Platt (1969), Caldwell (1961), and Fox (1996) reveals that, although development of the court has taken various shapes and has often been rooted in differing ideals and guiding principles, the overall philosophical view of the purpose of the juvenile court has remained relatively unchanged and, surprisingly, was not unique or pioneered by the creation of the juvenile court. Over time, however, reforms have changed the juvenile court from the original concept of a hybrid between a court of law and a social agency charged with the protection and stewardship of juveniles to, for all intents and purposes, simply a court of law with additional flexibility in the sentencing of youthful offenders.

In order to best understand the path the development of the juvenile court has taken it is best to begin with the reasons for its creation. While there is some debate on the official origin of the juvenile court, it is widely accepted that its formation is credited to Chicago in 1899. According to Mack (1909) the court was formed as a result of society's general question of: “why is the state not bound by duty to protect and guard, and subsequently care for and guide, the children that reside within its borders when those children have committed an act in violation of the law or socially acceptable moral behavior?” This idea is expounded upon and reinforced by Platt's (1969) analysis of the rise of the “child-saving” movement, is reaffirmed yet again by Caldwell (1961) as he provides background on the development of the juvenile court and poses questions on how the system must change to effectively achieve the standards set forth by the United States Children's Bureau, and though Fox (1996) debates the origin of this perspective, the admission is present that the underlying theme played a crucial role in the development of the juvenile court. It can therefore be surmised that the development of a separate juvenile court was driven by a need for society to intervene in the lives of youthful offenders who, without the intervention of an authority, would either continue along a path of delinquency and criminality that posed further dangers to the safety and preservation of society or would be in danger due to the shortcomings of their parents or guardians.

The most concise presentation of the guiding principles for the development of the juvenile court were those set forth by Katherine Lenroot, who was then chief of the United States Children's Bureau (Caldwell, 1961). Those standards, in summary, stated that a juvenile court should have broad jurisdiction over persons under the age of eighteen, be presided over by a specially trained judge, maintain informal procedure and private hearings, keep detention at a minimum and preferably in private boarding homes, be comprised of a highly qualified probation staff, have resources for individual and specialized treatment at its disposal, be supervised by the state, and maintain an adequate record system safe-guarded against indiscriminate public viewing. Although Lenroot's guidelines were not presented until 1949, attempts were made in separating the adult and child correctional and rehabilitative institutions as early as 1824, when the New York legislature passed a law authorizing a House of Refuge for youth who were deemed reformable by the court (Fox, 1996). With the exception of maintaining informal procedure, these guidelines are just as important today as they were in 1949.

Among the chief concerns raised surrounding the juvenile court is the need for formalized procedures that maintain equitable and justifiable sanctions while retaining an informal setting. This concern was raised by Mack (1909) when he discusses the importance of the personality of the judge and their necessity to preserve the legal and natural rights of men and children, and was heavily examined, discussed, and expounded upon by Caldwell (1961) along with his analysis of what must change to provide structure within the juvenile court.

In stark contrast to the other authors referenced, Fox (1996) presents a scathing commentary on the failures of the juvenile court with regards to properly caring for youth through boarding homes and private programs versus simply incarcerating them with mere differences in terminology and aesthetics. In fact, Fox states that the only unique aspect of the juvenile court, and the one aspect that set it apart from other courts, was directly tied to the chief concern previously mentioned: the development of a personal and intimate rapport between the court, in this case the judge, and the youth referred to the court. This innovation has since faded, and the juvenile court has become, and later officially reinforced as, purely a court of law.

For the current incarnation of the juvenile court to maintain its goal of specialized, individualized justice, the return of forming a more intimate relationship between judge and offender must be a priority. Until such time as the court resumes a more parental role in the disposition of sentencing, the concerns presented above remain moot. However, if the juvenile court once again moves in such a direction, the aforementioned concerns must be taken into consideration in the development of formalized guidelines for the adjudication of delinquents in order to ensure fair and equitable treatment in all juvenile courts.


Caldwell, R.G. (1961). The Juvenile court: its development and some major problems. TheJournal of Criminal Law & Criminology 51: 493-511.

Fox, S. (1996). The early history of the court. The Future of Children 6: 29-39.

Mack, J. (1909). The juvenile court. Harvard Law Review 23: 104-122.

Platt, A. (1969). The rise of the child-saving movement: a study in social policy and correctionalreform. The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 381:21-38.

A Dual-Classification of Antisocial Individuals

In 1993, Terrie Moffitt posited the theory that juvenile delinquents as a population of study are comprised of two distinctly different types of individuals: the life-course-persistent antisocial individual and the adolescence-limited antisocial individual. Moffitt's theory provides a number of insights into the nature of delinquency, as well as important implications for juvenile justice policy and procedure.In order to best understand the implications of Moffitt's theory for juvenile justice policy and practice, it is best to begin with an overview of the differences between the two types of antisocial individuals presented and the difficulties inherent in distinguishing between the two groups. In summarized form, life-course-persistent antisocial individuals are those whose behavioral problems begin in childhood, remain consistent through adolescence, and persevere through adulthood. Adolescence-limited antisocial individuals, however, go through a temporary, situationally behaviorally problematic period that generally occurs between the time of pubescent maturity and young adulthood. It is important to note that, according to Moffitt (1993), adolescent newcomers to antisocial behaviors, despite a lack of prior experience, equal their preschool-onset peers with regards to the variety and frequency of laws broken as well as the number of times referred to juvenile court. Therefore, based on the commonly used indexes of adolescent delinquency, and when viewed through cross-sectional studies by researchers, the two groups become indistinguishable.With regards to distinguishing between the two groups, especially as related to the way in which antisocial youth are seen by the juvenile justice system, it becomes imperative to obtain knowledge of an adolescent's behavior from early childhood through the current time-frame. Without such knowledge, a differential diagnosis between the two types of antisocial individuals is impossible, and successful intervention and treatment then becomes less likely depending upon the type of offender and the sanctions imposed. As an example, many adolescence-limited youths will receive sanctions that will serve to maintain their delinquent behaviors instead of providing them with opportunities to “age out” of their delinquent behavior, such as incarceration, an interrupted education, the formation of a drug habit, or teen parenthood. In addition, interventions with life-course-persistent adolescents are typically met with lackluster results due to their proclivity to turn positive opportunities into ways in which they can maintain continuity with their antisocial behavior. An example of this behavior includes turning residential treatment programs into opportunities to learn from and associate with criminal peers.Further exacerbating the need to gain knowledge of an adolescent's pre-adolescent behavior when taking into account juvenile justice practices, Moffit explains that adolescence-limited youths' antisocial behavior is normative, not abnormal. In fact, Moffitt references a study by Farrington, Ohlin, and Wilson in 1986 in which it is stated that four fifths of males have some contact with police for a minor infringement during their adolescent years. Based on self-report data, it is statistically abnormal to refrain from engaging in some type of antisocial or delinquent behavior.The aforementioned data points provide interesting insights into the nature of delinquency among adolescents. Approximately five percent of offenders have been repeatedly shown to be responsible for around fifty percent of known crimes. Moffitt's taxonomy suggests that this five percent is primarily comprised of life-course-persistent adolescents, and that these youth act as the gateway to delinquent behavior for adolescence-limited youths. It should be noted, however, that the theoretical causes for delinquent behavior between these two groups is quite different. Life-course-persistent antisocial individuals exhibit a number of characteristics that suggest psychopathology, with the root causes being related to subtle or underlying cognitive or neuropsychological deficiencies that become problematic through physical, social, and environmental influences. Adolescence-limited antisocial individuals, on the other hand, develop problematic behaviors as a result of a lack of socially ascribed maturity at a time when they develop biological maturity, and look to delinquent behavior as a way of achieving mature status.Taking into account the summarization provided, juvenile justice policies and practices must be flexible enough to account for two distinctly different types of antisocial individuals when considering sanctions. Such flexibility can only be achieved by successfully compiling data on juvenile offenders from as early in the life course as possible, preferably using multiple types of risk assessments from different sources, such as parents, caregivers, and educators. In addition, to truly intervene successfully in the lives of potential life-course-persistent antisocial persons, possible social, environmental, and physical influences must be identified when assessments indicate possible neuropsychological or physical deficiencies that have been shown to be linked to the development of criminal behavior. Such assessments would provide historical data regarding the levels of antisocial behaviors exhibited in youth across their developmental years and into adolescence, and would assist the juvenile justice system greatly in forming intervention and treatment plans that prove most successful without increasing the likelihood of antisocial continuity.SourcesMoffitt, T. E. (1993). Adolescence-Limited and Life-Course-Persistent Antisocial Behavior: A Developmental Taxonomy. Psychological Review, 100(4), 674-701.

Trends in Juvenile Delinquency and Justice

Author's Note: I started graduate school, so a lot of my writing time is impeded by having to actually write for classes. Once my essays are complete and graded, I'll post them here so that you all at least have something to read if I do not get to write other pieces for fun for a little bit. Enjoy!

Public perception and concern over the emergence of a new breed of juvenile delinquent, namely the violent predator, fueled Snyder's analysis of the Maricopa County juvenile population in 1998. This study resulted in some very interesting findings, especially with regards to the effectiveness of the system and the types of offenses committed by youths. In addition, Snyder's findings help shed light on ways to reevaluate, and potentially improve, the policies and practices of the juvenile justice system.The Maricopa County study looked at the “graduating classes” of officially recognized juvenile delinquents from 1980 to 1995. These cohorts were identified by using the entire youth population that turned eighteen and aged out of the juvenile system in their respective years. In all, 151,209 youth were identified as officially recognized by the juvenile system during this timeframe, which accounted for a combined 325,259 referrals to the court. Three categories of offenses were used to identify each juvenile career type: nonserious nonviolent offenses, serious nonviolent offenses, and violent offenses.In order to best understand what Snyder's findings mean, it is important to note some of the key statistical data that provide the basis for interpreting the effectiveness of the juvenile justice system and the potential ways in which reevaluating policy and practice are affected. The average age at which a youth's first delinquent offense occurred remained fairly constant across all sixteen cohorts, and ranged between 15.2 and 15.8 years of age. The average number of referrals to the system increased from 1980 to 1995 by approximately 55%. It is important to note that this increase in referrals is greater than the increase in the size of the groups, which means that the 1995 cohort had more referrals per career than the 1980 cohort. Finally, a large majority of youth referred to the system, approximately 60% in fact, were referred only once.While the preceding data alone does not present a complete understanding of Snyder's findings, it does provide a baseline from which further analysis yields interesting insights. In examining the effectiveness of the juvenile justice system the rate of recidivism provides the most important data point. In addition to noting that the majority of youth were referred only once, only 1% of the population studied was referred more than once for violent offenses. This indicates that successful intervention by the system early in the career of an offending youth is absolutely critical in preventing further delinquent activities. Snyder also found that each referral to the system increased the likelihood of an offender being referred for a violent offense. This further emphasizes that early, successful intervention is crucial in lowering violent crime among the juvenile population, and provides a clear goal in reevaluating the practices and policies related to intervening in the careers of juvenile offenders as early as possible.As noted earlier, the number of referrals from 1980 to 1995 increased, with the proportion of chronic offenders averaging 13% in the eighties and 17% in the nineties. The records show that this increase was a result of more chronic offenders, not more active, serious, or violent offenders. This increase could be explained by the expanded reach of the juvenile justice system, as Snyder mentions, but could also indicate a growing trend of unsuccessful intervention the first time a youth is referred to the court. Since chronic offenders of any type (nonserious, serious, and violent) only made up 14.6% of the entire population studied, or 22,112 of the 151,209 cases studied, and the proportion of chronic offenders averaged 17% at its peak, the explanation that a larger number of juveniles involved in repeat referrals as a result of an expanded reach of the system makes the most sense.These points illustrate that rethinking intervention strategies in an effort to lower the number of referrals among juveniles should be an ongoing process. One flaw easily recognized in understanding the effectiveness of the juvenile justice system, however, is that no clear data is available on how many juveniles are not referred to the courts or who are referred directly to the adult justice system due to changes in policy and law. In order to best understand whether the juvenile justice system is actually largely meeting its goals as Snyder indicates, another study that tracks these same cohorts across the rest of their careers up to the present is necessary. In addition, analysis of intake records for the adult court system over the same time-frame should be studied to ensure additional juveniles were not overlooked in the original study.Overall, Snyder's findings indicate positive trends in juvenile justice and delinquency. Continued expansion of programs designed to intervene in the lives of at-risk juveniles, as well as expansion of programs designed to intervene at the point of first contact with the juvenile system, are cornerstones of an effective, proactive approach to lowering both initial referrals and repeat referrals to the courts. It is clear, however, that sufficient data on juvenile delinquency does not exist at present.Sources:Snyder, H.N. (1998). Serious, violent, and chronic juvenile offenders—an assessment of the extent of and trends in officially recognized serious criminal behavior in a delinquent population. In: Loeber, R., & Farrington, D. (Eds), Serious & violent juvenile offenders: risk factors and successful interventions. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.