What a difference a year makes: An examination of prosecutorial decision-making for persons under the age of 18 in the Harris County, Texas adult criminal justice system. Patterns and predictors.
Cooper, Maisha Nichole
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Prior studies have argued that the disparate treatment of racial, ethnic, gender, and age groups is present, either directly or indirectly, at every stage of processing in the United States’ juvenile and adult criminal justice systems. Informed by the prior literature suggesting that extralegal factors influence decision-making in cases with adult offenders (see Walker et al., 2012), the purpose of the current study is twofold. First, the study seeks to explore patterns in prosecutorial decision-making involving juvenile offenders in an adult criminal court. Second, guided by a focal concerns perspective, this dissertation will then examine which, if any, legal and extralegal factors influence the decision to prosecute these youth in the adult system. More directly, the latter half of this study seeks to examine if disparities are present in the processing of juveniles in the Harris County, Texas adult criminal court. The study also seeks to examine the possibility of an age penalty being attached to younger juveniles (transferred youth) as compared to 17-year olds. More specifically, the current study will examine whether legal and extralegal factors differentially influence the prosecutors’ decision to prosecute to the detriment of transferred youth compared to statutorily excluded (17-year old) juveniles. This study employed a variety of analytical strategies using data from the Neulaw project, which consists of all court cases handled in the Harris County, Texas adult criminal court between the years of 1977-2013 (Ormachea et al., 2015). The results revealed several key patterns in prosecutorial decision-making and the presence of race/ethnicity, gender, and age effects in prosecutorial decision-making involving juvenile offenders in an adult criminal court.