Date of Conferral





Public Policy and Administration


Karel Kurst-Swanger


An estimated 200,000 juveniles are tried as adults yearly and receive punitive sentences intended to deter juvenile crime and increase public safety. Few qualitative studies on juveniles sentenced as adults and contradictory results indicate a need for further research. This study used a qualitative, phenomenological interpretive design, with the conceptual frameworks of general and specific deterrence and rational choice theories. In-depth interviews took place with 12 incarcerated adults serving sentences (24--540 months) for juvenile crimes. The research questions explored their knowledge of transfer laws and adult sentencing and perceptions of deterrence from future criminal activity. Coding of transcripts and audio files was distilled into meaning units following the hermeneutical tradition, and triangulation was used to identify overarching themes and patterns. Findings revealed that no participants understood application of transfer to adult court to them, and 10 (83%) revealed ignorance of juvenile transfer laws. Thus, they did not weigh costs or benefits prior to offending (general deterrence) or exercise rational decision making; however, 11 (92%) would have reconsidered offending if they were aware of adult sentences. Half admitted the impacts of incarceration would not deter them from future offending (no specific deterrence), and half believed negative factors would prevent recidivism. Study results can prompt further research in juvenile offenders' knowledge and decisions regarding adult sentencing. Implications for social change include dissemination of findings to deter adolescents from criminal behavior. Findings may also aid policymakers' reevaluation and revision of sentencing policies for juvenile offenders to help prevent juvenile crime and recidivism and increase public safety.