Individualization, Criminalization, or Problem Resolution: A Factorial Survey of Juvenile Court Judges’ Decisions to Incarcerate Youthful Felony Offenders

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Existing research on the criteria used by juvenile court judges in choosing dispositions is limited in two respects. First, the predictor variables included in most investigations have been limited either in number or in the quality of their measurement. Second, research has not focused on sentencing decisions for serious offenders. Using a factorial survey of juvenile court judges, the present study seeks to determine what factors shape disposition decisions for juvenile felony offenders. The results suggest that judges focus primarily on offense characteristics, and are influenced only marginally by the offender’s social characteristics. These findings are more consistent with the view that juvenile courts are becoming “criminalized” than with the view that individualized treatment is the goal. An alternative interpretation—that judges may be problem solvers, trying to dispose of cases efficiently—also is proposed.