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Pennsylvania Waiver, 1986 Versus 1994

Study overview

Pennsylvania’s waiver provisions

In determining amenability, Pennsylvania legislation indicated that the court should consider a broad range of factors.

Between 1986 and 1994, there were no changes in Pennsylvania’s transfer provisions. Pennsylvania law during that time provided that, except for murder cases, all cases alleging a criminal law violation by an offender prior to his or her 18th birthday were to begin in juvenile court. In some of these cases, the juvenile court judge had the discretion to transfer (or judicially waive) the matter to criminal court. Between 1986 and 1994, judicial waiver was possible in Pennsylvania if all of the following conditions were met:

  • The youth was at least 14 years of age at the time of the incident.

  • The alleged act was a felony.

  • A prima facie case that the youth committed the act had been established.

  • Reasonable grounds existed to believe that the youth was not amenable to treatment in the juvenile justice system.

In determining amenability, Pennsylvania legislation indicated that the court should consider a broad range of factors, including a youth’s age, mental capacity, and maturity; the degree of criminal sophistication exhibited by the youth; the nature and extent of any history of delinquency (including the success or failure of any previous attempts by the juvenile court to rehabilitate the youth); the possibility of rehabilitating the youth before the juvenile court’s jurisdiction expired; information in probation or institutional reports; the nature and circumstances of the acts for which transfer was being sought; the mental illness/retardation of the child; and the interests of the community.

Pennsylvania waiver data collection

Pennsylvania’s Juvenile Court Judges Commission published a study in 1991 describing the attributes of all 246 cases and 222 youth judicially waived to criminal court in the State during 1986 (Lemmon, Sontheimer, and Saylor, 1991). This study documented the demographic characteristics of the waived youth, their juvenile court histories, the charges waived to criminal court, and the resulting convictions and dispositions. The authors of the 1991 study made available for the project described in this Summary a copy of the automated data file that supported the original 1986 Pennsylvania transfer study and the original data collection forms on which this data file was based. A review of the data collection form found that several data elements on the form had not been entered into the automated data file. The 1986 data file was expanded to include these variables. The resulting data file captured a range of case characteristics on each youth waived to criminal court in Pennsylvania in 1986, including the birth date, sex, and race of the offender; the original and amended charges in all cases eventually waived; court processing dates; and the criminal court disposition of each case. The data file also contained a summary of all previous formally processed juvenile court cases involving these youth. The summary included the case’s referral and disposition dates, the offenses charged, and the juvenile court’s response to these charges.

Between 1986 and 1994, there was no change in the size of Pennsylvania’s juvenile population or in the overall number of juvenile arrests in the State.

Using the multijurisdiction data collection form developed for this project as a base, the project team collected data on all youth who were judicially waived in Pennsylvania in 1994. Cases waived to criminal court in 1994 were identified in the automated court history files maintained by the Juvenile Court Judges Commission, and from this data file, researchers prepared a list of waived youth and the county in which the transfer occurred. For counties with fewer than 10 waiver incidents in 1994, forms were sent with detailed instructions to juvenile probation offices or the county district attorney’s office. Research staff were available by phone to answer any questions regarding information to be collected. When necessary, followup contacts were made to verify or complete information. Onsite data collection and coding were completed by research staff in counties that had 10 or more transfers in 1994.5 Research staff met with court personnel to develop an understanding of local recordkeeping and processing procedures and to obtain access to records and automated files. Data collectors obtained information on the initial processing of the waiver incident and any prior court incidents from official juvenile court records. When available, information on extralegal variables (e.g., educational level, family status) was obtained from family files maintained by the juvenile court. Information on the criminal court processing and criminal court outcomes was obtained from public records maintained by county clerks of court. Criminal court records were identified by using names, social security numbers, and offense/arrest dates. When a youth was involved in more than one transfer case, the case in which the youth received the most severe disposition was selected for study, to make the data consistent with the 1986 work.

Pennsylvania waiver findings

Between 1986 and 1994, there was no change in the size of Pennsylvania’s juvenile population or in the overall number of juvenile arrests in the State (table 18). During this period, the number of juvenile arrests for property crimes changed little. The number of juvenile violent crime arrests increased moderately—with arrests for Violent Crime Index offenses up 32 percent. This increase resulted almost completely from a near doubling in juvenile arrests for aggravated assault. The number of juvenile arrests for robbery, the other major component of the Violent Crime Index, was the same in 1986 and 1994, and arrests for forcible rape increased only 7 percent. In addition, there was a large increase in juvenile arrests for drug offenses (152 percent). Therefore, while the overall number of juvenile arrests in Pennsylvania changed little between 1986 and 1994, the number of juvenile arrests for aggravated assault and drug offenses increased substantially. These juvenile arrest trends led to similar changes in the juvenile court caseload. For example, although the number of delinquency cases processed in Pennsylvania juvenile courts rose slightly (12 percent) between 1986 and 1994, there was a large increase in cases involving drug offenses. In 1986, the juvenile court handled just over 700 drug cases, and by 1994, the drug caseload had increased to well over 2,000—an increase of more than 200 percent.

Table 18: Juvenile Arrests: Trends in Pennsylvania, 1986-94

The public’s attitude toward juvenile offenders (especially violent juvenile offenders) changed noticeably.

During this period, juvenile placements in residential facilities fell by 4 percent and waivers to criminal court increased 84 percent. The public’s attitude toward juvenile offenders (especially violent juvenile offenders) also changed noticeably, as did media coverage of juvenile violent crime. Juvenile violence became a popular media topic, and the public became increasingly distressed by reports and images of juveniles who were “out of control” and seemed to be getting away with violent behavior. As a result of the changing public attitudes, juvenile justice reform was a major issue in Pennsylvania’s 1994 gubernatorial race and subsequently resulted in a special session of the legislature to focus on juvenile justice issues.6 These changes in Pennsylvania from 1986 to 1994 provided an opportunity for researchers to study the impact of changing juvenile crime patterns and changing public attitudes on juvenile transfers to criminal court.

In 1986, Pennsylvania’s juvenile courts waived 222 youth to criminal court. By 1994, the number of waived juveniles had nearly doubled, from 222 to 408. In 1986, the juvenile court waived 1 out of 128 delinquency cases processed to criminal court; by 1994, juvenile court judges were waiving 1 out of 78 delinquency cases.

In some respects, juveniles waived to criminal court in Pennsylvania in 1986 were similar to those waived in 1994.

In some respects, juveniles waived to criminal court in Pennsylvania in 1986 were similar to those waived in 1994 (tables 19 and 20). In both years, the juveniles waived were mostly male. The two waiver groups also had similar proportions of juveniles with no prior adjudications in their juvenile court histories and similar proportions of youth with three or more prior adjudications. In both 1986 and 1994, slightly more than 40 percent of juveniles waived had never been previously placed in a residential facility. Slightly less than half of the juveniles waived in each year were waived for a serious person offense (table 21). The nature of these violent cases, however, changed. Consistent with arrest trends, a smaller proportion of juveniles waived in 1994 had been charged with robbery and a larger proportion had been charged with aggravated assault.

Table 19: Profile of Juveniles Waived in Pennsylvania, 1986 and 1994

Table 20: Court History of Juveniles Waived in Pennsylvania, 1986 and 1994

Table 21: Most Serious Offense of Juveniles Waived in Pennsylvania, 1986 and 1994

In other respects, the youth waived in 1994 were quite different from those waived in 1986. The 1994 cohort contained a smaller proportion of white youth (38 percent in 1986 and 28 percent in 1994), a much smaller proportion of youth charged with burglary, and a much larger proportion of youth charged with aggravated assault or a drug violation (again, paralleling arrest trends from 1986 to 1994). A larger proportion of the 1994 cohort was under age 18 at the time of the transfer.

The youth in the 1994 waiver cohort were, on average, approximately the same age at their first delinquency adjudication as youth in the 1986 group (14.9 years and 14.6 years, respectively). However, a larger proportion of the 1986 cohort had their first adjudication before age 14 (35 percent of the 1986 cohort, compared with 27 percent of the 1994 cohort). The average age of waived youth at the time of their first court-ordered probation and residential placement was also approximately the same for the two groups (nearly 15 years at first formal probation and just over 15 years at first formal residential placement).

The study revealed certain differences in the criminal dispositions of juveniles waived in 1986 and those waived in 1994.

The juveniles waived in 1994 differed from those waived in 1986 in terms of the seriousness of their juvenile court histories or “careers.” To conduct this comparison, the researchers classified each waived juvenile’s career as one of five types:

  • First-time offenders: Youth with no prior adjudications.

  • Nonserious offenders: Youth with no prior adjudications for a serious person or serious property offense or a drug offense.

  • Serious property offenders: Youth with at least one adjudication for a serious property offense and no adjudications for a serious person offense.

  • Serious person offenders: Youth with at least one adjudication for a serious person offense and no adjudications for a serious property offense.

  • Serious person and property offenders: Youth with at least one adjudication for a serious person offense and at least one adjudication for a serious property offense.

An analysis of each group’s career profile shows that members of the 1986 group had been judged, on average, to be more serious offenders before their referral to court in the waiver incident (table 22). Among those waived in 1986, 22 percent had a prior court career that placed them in the serious person and property offender category, compared with 6 percent of those waived in 1994. Forty-five percent of juveniles waived in 1986 had a prior adjudication for a serious person offense (i.e., were serious person offenders or serious person and property offenders), compared with only 36 percent of those waived in 1994. Overall, 66 percent of the 1986 group had been adjudicated for a serious person or serious property offense before the referral for which they were waived, compared with only 51 percent of the 1994 group. In addition, although the proportion of offenders with no prior adjudications in juvenile court was similar for the two groups, the percentage of youth who were nonserious offenders prior to the waiver referral was larger in the 1994 group than in the 1986 group (33 percent versus 20 percent, respectively). Further, while the juveniles waived in 1986 and 1994 were similar in terms of the number of prior adjudications and in terms of the proportion that had been placed in a residential facility for a prior adjudication, a smaller proportion of the 1994 group had a prior court-ordered probation (51 percent, as opposed to 65 percent of the 1986 group). These findings imply that, compared with the court handling of juveniles waived in 1986, the juvenile court had been more likely to place those juveniles waived in 1994 in a facility without first trying probation as a dispositional alternative. Then, when the youth recidivated after a placement disposition, the youth was waived.

Table 22: Court Career Profile of Juveniles Waived in Pennsylvania, 1986 and 1994

The study revealed certain differences in the criminal dispositions of juveniles waived in 1986 and those waived in 1994 (table 23). In both groups, almost 10 percent of cases were dismissed in criminal court. The criminal courts ordered nearly 80 percent of youth in both groups to serve time in an adult correctional facility. However, more of the juveniles waived in 1994 served their sentence in a State prison (43 percent, compared with 27 percent of the 1986 group). Most of the incarcerated youth among those waived in 1986 served their sentences in county jails.

Table 23: Criminal Court Disposition of Cases Waaived in Pennsylvania, 1986 and 1994

A small proportion of both groups were not institutionalized but placed on adult probation.

By their nature, prison sentences are longer than jail sentences. Thus, the average minimum sentence ordered for incarcerated youth in the 1994 group was about 25 percent longer than the average sentence ordered in cases waived in 1986.7 The average institutional sentence (i.e., the combined average of prison and jail sentences) was longer for the 1994 group because a greater proportion of those institutionalized from that group served their time in prison. However, the average prison sentence for the 1986 group was actually about the same as that for the 1994 group (approximately 3 years and 4 months for the 1986 waivers, compared with 3 years and 1 month for the 1994 waivers). For those sent to county jail, the average sentence for the 1994 waivers was approximately 1 month longer than that for the 1986 waivers (10.7 months versus 9.5 months). A small proportion of both groups were not institutionalized but placed on adult probation. For these youth, the minimum length of probation ordered by judges for the 1986 group was almost 2 years longer than that ordered for the 1994 group (3 years and 9 months for the 1986 waivers and 1 year and 10 months for the 1994 waivers).

In both South Carolina and Utah, the use of waiver changed substantially over time

Trends in Use of Waiver in Souh Carolina and UtahSouth Carolina: Over a 10-year period from 1985 to 1994, the volume of waiver requests changed substantially—even though judicial waiver provisions did not change. The number of requests by prosecutors (solicitors) was relatively static from 1984 through 1990. Waiver requests tripled between 1990 and 1992 and then dropped off, so that by 1994, waiver requests had nearly returned to the pre-1990 level. Changes in waiver requests were more extreme than changes in the number of arrests of juveniles under age 17 in the State. Between 1990 and 1992, South Carolina experienced a 19-percent increase in the number of arrests of juveniles under age 17. Juvenile arrests for Property Crime Index offenses rose 17 percent, and juvenile drug arrests rose 28 percent. In comparison, juvenile arrests for Violent Crime Index offenses increased more substantially (91 percent) during that time. From 1992 to 1994, juvenile arrests increased 17 percent (property arrests rose 14 percent, drug arrests rose 124 percent, and violent crime arrests rose 30 percent). These increases in juvenile arrests run counter to the 60-percent drop in waiver requests during the same time period.

The proportion of waiver request cases that were approved also increased. Between 1985 and 1989, the percentage of cases approved for waiver ranged from 68 to 76 percent and averaged 72 percent. Between 1990 and 1994, the proportion of cases approved for waiver ranged from 76 to 96 percent and averaged 84 percent.

Utah: Overall, the juvenile court approved 76 percent of waiver request cases between 1988 and 1995. However, the use of waiver in Utah changed noticeably between 1993 and 1994. There were more waiver request cases and more cases approved for waiver in 1994 and 1995 than in the preceding 6 years combined.



5 These counties included Allegheny, Bucks, Dauphin, Delaware, Erie, Lackawanna, Lancaster, Luzerne, Northampton, and Philadelphia. Staff from NCJJ completed data collection in Allegheny County, and researchers from the Juvenile Court Judges Commission’s Center for Juvenile Justice Research and Training completed data collection in the remaining nine counties.

6 The special session resulted in substantial changes to the juvenile justice system in Pennsylvania, including passage of an expanded statutory exclusion provision, which is the focus of the next section of this Summary.

7One youth in the 1994 cohort received a life sentence. His sentence was not included in the analysis of sentence lengths.

Juvenile Transfers to Criminal Court in the 1990's:
Lessons Learned From Four Studies
August 2000