Date of Award

4-21-2005

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

Criminology

First Advisor

David L. Myers, Ph.D.

Second Advisor

Dennis Giever, Ph.D.

Third Advisor

Daniel R. Lee, Ph.D.

Fourth Advisor

Jamie Martin, Ph.D.

Abstract

The current study sought to examine the under-researched area of juvenile decertification and assess the overall effectiveness of Pennsylvania’s Act 33 legislative waiver statute. The study focused specifically on factors that predict decertification and provided a comparative analysis of decertified and non-decertified offenders in terms of case outcomes and recidivism, along with a general consideration of whether the statute achieves the goals of increased offender accountability and public safety. Both quantitative and qualitative methods were employed. Quantitative data were utilized pertaining to 423 youth initially transferred to adult court under Act 33 in three Pennsylvania Counties during 1996. Qualitative interviews were conducted with criminal justice professionals from each of the same three counties, all of whom were involved directly in the legislative waiver and decertification processes. The results indicated that legal factors (e.g., offense seriousness and prior record) are the strongest predictors of decertification. In addition, Act 33 does not appear to provide a greater certainty or swiftness of punishment among violent offenders in adult court, as compared to those who are decertified to iv juvenile court. However, there does appear to be harsher sanctions (in terms of incarceration length) provided in adult court than in juvenile court. Finally, Act 33 does not seem to provide a greater specific deterrent effect for non-decertified offenders, but may actually increase the risk of recidivism for their violent counterparts who are decertified to juvenile court. The current findings, in light of past juvenile transfer research, are not supportive of Act 33 achieving its goals of increased offender accountability and greater public safety. Several findings also point to the need for further research, not only on legislative waiver laws, but in comparing outcomes across different transfer mechanisms.

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