Legislative Policies toward the Serious Juvenile Offender: On the Virtues of Automatic Adulthood

Barry C. Feld

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

18 Scopus citations


The problems of waiving juvenile court jurisdiction and transferring young offenders to the criminal courts for prosecution as adults raise virtually every issue of juvenile jurisprudence and pose a variety of substantive and procedural questions for legislatures. This article critically examines the prevailing judicial waiver process and statutes that require juvenile court judges to make individualized determinations as to a youth's amenability to treatment and danger to society. Such decisions simply cannot be made with an acceptable degree of accuracy using current methods of clinical prediction; the broad dis cretion given judges in making transfer decisions results in abuse, in consistency, and discriminatory application that undermine the fairness and predictability of the judicial process. Although it is not possible, at present, to predict clinically a youth's amenability to treat ment or his dangerousness, a legislature may use actuarial tables with various combinations of present offenses and past records to identify those juveniles who pose the greatest threat to public safety and re quire longer confinement than is available within the juvenile justice system. The article contends that a legislative redefinition of juvenile court jurisdiction that automatically excludes certain youths from the juvenile justice system on the basis of their present offenses and past records not only identifies more accurately those youths who should be transferred, but also, by eliminating judicial discretion, reduces the dangers of discrimination and increases predictability. The article also suggests some of the beneficial effects on juvenile and adult sentencing policies that may follow from legislatively mandated “automatic adulthood”. © 1981, Sage Publications. All rights reserved.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)497-521
Number of pages25
JournalCrime and Delinquency
Issue number4
StatePublished - 1981


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