Federal Study on Transfers of Juveniles Delayed, Again

For three straight years now, a federally-commissioned study on the transfer of juveniles into the criminal court system has been delayed. But it looks like we might finally see this thing in 2017.

In 2010, the Bureau of Justice Statistics awarded $500,000 to Westat to conduct the Survey of Juveniles Charged in Adult Criminal Courts. Westat brought in the National Center for Juvenile Justice as a subcontractor to help gather the data.

After some early snags over whether the survey would be folded into a larger project awarded to Westat, the study was delayed until at least 2015.

In 2015, we heard that the project had once again become independent, and that at least preliminary information would come out in 2016.

2016 has come and gone, of course, so Youth Services Insider checked in again. According to the Justice Department, the survey is still being worked on and the end date is 2017.

“The Survey of Juveniles Charged in Adult Criminal Courts is still in the field,” said Justice spokeswoman Kara McCarthy. ‘The data collection has been more complicated than expected and we are working to make certain that the research is done to BJS standards.”

Anyone who reads our Youth Services Insider column with regularity knows our position on the blind spots of research when it comes to system-involved youth. In child welfare, it’s what happens after adoptions are finalized. In juvenile justice, it’s what happens after a youth is transferred to adult court. Those are two areas where we have no real clue what’s going down.

Thanks to legislative changes to the child welfare data requirements, we’ll soon have some answers on post-adoption outcomes. This BJS study will be the first national look in a very long time at what happens before, and after, juveniles are transferred to the adult system.

The Obama Justice Department was pretty silent on the matter. It published a policy brief early on that said juveniles were more likely to reoffend after being sent to adult facilities than those sent to juvenile facilities. And, using fiscal 2009 money, it commissioned the survey in question.

But this survey has additional currency, in our opinion, because of the view of the present Justice Department boss on the subject of transfers.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions has long supported wide prosecutorial discretion to transfer juveniles, particularly for violent crimes. In the late 1990s, he attempted to use federal dollars to incentivize more states to permit the transfer of juveniles ages 14 and up.

YSI has heard from people close to the survey that it is pretty close to finished, and that the estimated number of juveniles transferred to adult systems was higher than expected. We’ll be interested to see what the results are, and what this Justice Department has to say about it.

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John Kelly
About John Kelly 1128 Articles
John Kelly is editor-in-chief of The Chronicle of Social Change.