Juvenile and Family Court Journal, Vol. 55, No. 3, 2004


An underlying assumption in the nationwide policy shift toward transferring more juveniles to criminal court has been the belief that stricter, adult sentences will act as either a specific or general deterrent to juvenile crime. With respect to general deterrence - whether transfer laws deter would-be offenders from committing crimes - it is important to examine whether juveniles know about transfer laws, whether this knowledge deters criminal behavior, and whether juveniles believe the laws will be enforced against them. The current study is one of the first to examine juveniles' knowledge and perceptions of transfer laws and criminal sanctions. We interviewed 37 juveniles who had been transferred to criminal court in Georgia, obtaining quantitative as well as qualitative data based on structured interviewed questions. Four key findings emerged. First, juveniles were unaware of the transfer law. Second, juveniles felt that awareness of the law may have deterred them from committing the crime or may deter other juveniles from committing crimes, and they suggested practical ways to enhance juveniles' awareness of transfer laws. Third, the juveniles generally felt that it was unfair to try and sentence them as adults. Finally, the consequences of committing their crime were worse than most had imagined, and the harsh consequences of their incarceration in adult facilities may have had a brutalizing effect on some juveniles. The implications for general and specific deterrence are discussed.


Criminal Law | Criminal Procedure | Law and Psychology | Law and Society

Date of this Version

February 2005