Over the last several decades, almost every state enacted legislation to ease the process of treating juveniles as adults in the justice systems. Research on the effects of this legislation has largely examined issues such as the correlates of transfer decisions, the outcomes of transferred cases in criminal courts, and the recidivism of transferred youth compared to those retained in the juvenile system. Less attention has been paid to the post-conviction experiences of these youth including the actual amount of time that they serve in adult prisons. Several studies of the time served by juveniles indicate that there is substantial variation in the amount of time served in relation to their sentence. Yet, there has been very little examination of this variation. This study seeks to fill this gap by examining factors associated with amount of time served by juveniles committed to adult prisons.
Data were drawn from a larger dataset of all juveniles committed to adult prisons in Michigan between 1984 and 2003 (n=2244). Eligibility criteria for these analyses include commitment to prison for an offense committed prior to age 17 (age of justice system majority in Michigan), sentence termination on parole or for having reached maximum sentence, and no new offense while in prison or on parole (n=560). Ordinary least squares regression was used for two models, the first predicting total amount of time served and the second amount of time served relative to the minimum sentence.
A number of individual and offense characteristics are related to time served and the amount of time that juveniles serve in relation to their minimum sentence including race, county, mental health status, prior history in the juvenile justice system, age at onset of delinquency, and offense. Subsequent behavior as represented by institutional misconducts and parole revocation are also associated with more time served and more time served over minimum sentence. Specific findings of import include that African American youth, youth with mental health issues, and youth who are younger at age of commitment all serve more time. Given the additional fact that younger youth are likely to accumulate greater numbers of misconducts, this study demonstrates how and why those younger at the time of commitment to prison are likely to serve longer sentences overall and more time over their minimum sentences.
Conclusion and Implications:
These findings extend understandings of the post-conviction experiences of juveniles in the criminal justice system. Most importantly, they indicate that younger juveniles are at risk of spending more time in adult prisons because they do not do time well and because risk factors used in parole decisions (such as age at onset) are highly correlated with juvenile status. This provides support for those advocating retaining youth in the juvenile justice system by demonstrating the particular challenges of prison for younger youth. That youth with mental health problems serve longer sentences further suggests a need for increased access to mental health services both in the community and within the justice systems.