Electronic Theses and Dissertations

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

M.C.J. in Criminal Justice


Legal Studies

First Advisor

Abigail Novak

Second Advisor

D'Andre Walker

Third Advisor

Kimberly Kaiser

Relational Format



Due to the unique nature of the juvenile justice system, its focus on rehabilitation and the population it serves, juvenile court judges serve as the sole decision maker and are given substantial power of discretion. Prior literature has indicated extra-legal factors to influence court outcomes, and scholars have argued that the use of discretion has led to a significant variability in the way youth are treated by juvenile court officials and may contribute to the issue of minority overrepresentation in the juvenile justice system. Yet, family structure has not been examined in depth, especially as it relates to race/ethnicity. The goal of the current study was to increase understanding of how legal and extra-legal factors influence court outcomes in the juvenile justice system. More specifically, how youth’s race/ethnicity and family structure were associated with dispositional outcomes, and if family structure served as a moderator in the relationship between race/ethnicity and court outcome. Data for the current study were obtained from the Pathways to Desistance study, a longitudinal study of 1,354 adjudicated adolescents from juvenile and adult courts in Phoenix, Arizona and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and analyses were conducted to examine the relationship between race/ethnicity, family structure and disposition. Findings from the current study revealed 1) race/ethnicity and family structure were not associated with disposition outcomes, and 2) family structure did not moderate the relationship between race/ethnicity and disposition.

Available for download on Thursday, August 15, 2024