Law and Human Behavior

, 31:519 | Cite as

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

  • Elizabeth Cauffman
  • Alex R. Piquero
  • Eva Kimonis
  • Laurence Steinberg
  • Laurie Chassin
  • Jeffery Fagan


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.


Adolescence Juvenile justice Waiver to adult court Sentencing Maturity 



Pathways to Desistance, the study on which this study is based, is supported by grants from the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, the National Institute of Justice, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the William T. Grant Foundation the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the William Penn Foundation, the Pennsylvania Council on Crime and Delinquency, and the Arizona Juvenile Justice Commission. We are grateful to our collaborators, Robert Brame, Sonia Cota-Robles, George Knight, Sandra Losoya, Edward Mulvey, and Carol Schubert for their comments on earlier drafts of the manuscript, and to the many individuals responsible for the data collection and preparation.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, Inc. 2006

Authors and Affiliations

  • Elizabeth Cauffman
    • 1
  • Alex R. Piquero
    • 2
  • Eva Kimonis
    • 3
  • Laurence Steinberg
    • 4
  • Laurie Chassin
    • 5
  • Jeffery Fagan
    • 6
  1. 1.Psychology & Social Behavior, 3355 Social Ecology IIUniversity of California, IrvineIrvineUSA
  2. 2.University of FloridaGainesvilleUSA
  3. 3.Psychology & Social Behavior, 3325 Social Ecology IIUniversity of California, IrvineIrvineUSA
  4. 4.Department of PsychologyTemple UniversityPhiladelphiaUSA
  5. 5.Department of PsychologyArizona State UniversityTempeUSA
  6. 6.School of Public HealthColumbia UniversityNew YorkUSA

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