The two primary legal factors affecting most sentencing decisions in guidelines jurisdictions are the seriousness of the current conviction offense and the defendant’s prior involvement with the criminal justice system. While districts vary in the factors considered in prior record scores, the inclusion of juvenile adjudications in these assessments is common. Nevertheless, the impact that prior adjudications have on sentencing recommendations likely varies based on the types of juvenile adjudications included, the relative weight those prior actions are given relative to prior convictions as adults, and whether the guidelines impose upper limits on the extent to which juvenile adjudications can affect adult sentencing recommendations. In this study, we estimate the impact of juvenile adjudications on recommended sentencing outcomes using data from Pennsylvania from 2015-2019 and demonstrate a method to evaluate whether the current policy contributes to disparate sentencing recommendations. Further, we examine the extent to which alternative policy structures, that are in place in other jurisdictions, produce greater, lesser, or similar impacts on recommended sentences and potential disparity. We conclude with a discussion of research on juvenile cognitive development and its implications as related to our findings.

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