Legal, Individual, and Environmental Predictors of Court Disposition in a Sample of Serious Adolescent Offenders

Publication Date: January 2007

Publisher: MacArthur Foundation Research Network on Adolescent Development and Juvenile Justice (ADJJ)

Author(s): Jeffrey Fagan; Laurie Chassin; Laurence Steinberg; Eva Kimonis; Alex R. Piquero; Elizabeth Cauffman

Research Area: Justice; Law and ethics

Keywords: Maturity; Waiver to adult court; Sentencing; Adolescence

Type: Report

Coverage: Pennsylvania Arizona


Historically, the juvenile court has been expected to consider each youth's distinct rehabilitative needs in the dispositional decision-making process, rather than focusing on legal factors alone. This study examines the extent to which demographic, psychological, contextual, and legal factors, independently predict dispositional outcomes (i.e., probation vs. confinement) within two juvenile court jurisdictions (Philadelphia, Phoenix). The sample consists of 1,355 14- to 18-year-old male and female juvenile offenders adjudicated of a serious criminal offense. Results suggest that legal factors have the strongest influence on disposition in both jurisdictions. For example, a higher number of prior court referrals is associated with an increased likelihood of secure confinement in both jurisdictions. Juveniles adjudicated of violent offenses are more likely to receive secure confinement in Phoenix, but are more likely to be placed on probation in Philadelphia. Race is unrelated to dispositional outcome, but, males are consistently more likely than females to be placed in secure confinement. Importantly, individual factors (e.g., developmental maturity) generally were not powerful independent predictors of disposition. Finally, an examination of the predictors of juvenile versus adult court transfer in Phoenix indicated that males, older juveniles, and those with a violent adjudicated charge were more likely to be transferred to adult court, while juveniles scoring high on responsibility as well as those juveniles with an alcohol dependence diagnosis were more likely to be retained in juvenile court.