Sentencing Structure

Traditionally, sanctions imposed by juvenile courts were to be based on the needs of the offender, with an emphasis on the future welfare of the juvenile (Torbet et al., 1996). Juvenile court judges had a great deal of discretion in the disposition they selected for an individual. Sanctions could be indeterminate in length; that is, juveniles could stay under the oversight of the court until they were too old to be under juvenile court jurisdiction. The traditional goal of sanctions was rehabilitative. State legislative changes in recent years have moved the court away from its rehabilitative goals and toward punishment and accountability. Laws have made some dispositions offense-based rather than offender-based. Offense-based sanctions are to be proportional to the offense and have retribution or deterrence as their goal. Strategies for imposing offense-based sentences in juvenile court include blended sentences, mandatory minimum sentences, and extended jurisdiction (Torbet and Szymanski, 1998). All these sentencing options allow for longer sentences than might have been available under traditional juvenile courts.

Blended Sentences

Blended sentences allow the imposition of a combination of juvenile and adult correctional sanctions.11 The form of the blended sentences varies from state to state. In some states, a juvenile or criminal court may impose a sanction in either the juvenile or the criminal system. In some states, the juvenile or the criminal court may sentence a youth to the juvenile corrections system to be followed by a sentence in the adult corrections system, which may be suspended if the juvenile successfully completes his juvenile sanctions. In a few states (Colorado, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Texas), the juvenile court may impose a sentence that goes beyond the age of its jurisdiction, at which point the case is transferred to adult corrections. In Texas, for example, juveniles as young as 10 can be sentenced to as many as 40 years for certain crimes and can be transferred to the adult corrections system any time after they turn 16 if approved by the sentencing court at a transfer hearing, and automatically


In some states, legislatures have called their blended sentence laws determinate sentencing because rather than committing a juvenile to supervision by the juvenile court for an indeterminate period of time up to limit of the court's jurisdiction, the sentence is given for a set number of years. In Texas, the “determinate sentencing” law does not necessarily result in the given sentence being served (a true determinate sentence), but rather in a hearing after the juvenile turns 16 to determine if he or she should be released, retained in juvenile corrections, or transferred to adult corrections.

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