Does Speed Matter? The Association Between Case Processing Time in Juvenile Court and Rearrest

Date01 April 2022
Published date01 April 2022
Subject MatterArticles
Criminal Justice Policy Review
2022, Vol. 33(3) 317 –343
© The Author(s) 2021
Article reuse guidelines:
DOI: 10.1177/08874034211035500
Does Speed Matter?
The Association Between
Case Processing Time
in Juvenile Court and
Abigail Novak1 and Elizabeth Hartsell2
The present study assessed the relationship between case processing time and
rearrest among a sample of first-time juvenile offenders referred to the Florida
juvenile justice system and examined the extent to which this association varied by
youth and case characteristics. Propensity score analyses suggested youth with longer
case processing times had higher odds of being rearrested within 1 year compared to
youth with shorter case processing times. Subgroup analyses suggested differences in
the effects of case processing time by youth and case-level characteristics. According
to results, policymakers should prioritize implementing and enforcing case processing
time restrictions in their jurisdictions, particularly for detained youth and remain
aware of the potential ensnaring implications of longer case processing times to
reduce rearrest rates for first-time juvenile offenders.
juvenile justice, case processing time, courts, arrest
Juvenile defendants in the American criminal justice system have the right to a speedy
trial, but juveniles in the American juvenile justice system do not, leaving juvenile
case processing time largely unregulated and inconsistent across jurisdictions (Butts
et al., 2009). Broadly, case processing time refers to the length of time between referral
1The University of Mississippi, University, MS, USA
2University of Florida, Gainesville, FL, USA
Corresponding Author:
Abigail Novak, Department of Criminal Justice and Legal Studies, The University of Mississippi, 303
Hedleston Hall, University, MS 38677, USA.
1035500CJPXXX10.1177/08874034211035500Criminal Justice Policy ReviewNovak and Hartsell
318 Criminal Justice Policy Review 33(3)
and disposition (Butts et al., 2009) but may also describe the length of time between
arrest and adjudication, time between adjudication and disposition, and several other
time divisions (Mahoney, 1985). Case processing times are generally found to be
shorter in juvenile court than adult court (Jordan & Myers, 2011; Myers, 2003), and
research indicates case processing time in the juvenile justice system has decreased in
recent years, independent of changes in juvenile court caseloads (Butts et al., 2009).
The American Bar Association (ABA) recommends case processing time from refer-
ral to disposition be no longer than 30 days for detained youth and no more than 60 days
for released youth (Butts, 1997). Nearly all states have some form of time standards for
case processing in juvenile courts with wide variation in length and strictness by state
(Butts et al., 2009). Although helpful, these guidelines often implicitly assume that case
processing time has no effect on recidivism or assume shorter case processing times are
beneficial to youth outcomes, particularly among detained youth. Although previous
research on adolescent development and criminological theory suggests shorter case
processing times may be more beneficial for youth (Butts et al., 2009), qualitative
research indicates longer case processing times may reflect judicial attempts to avoid
formal adjudication (Barrett, 2013; Kupchik, 2006) and individualize the sanctioning
process (Pennington, 2018). Quantitative studies on the juvenile justice system examin-
ing the association between case processing time and outcomes are limited, leaving
questions about the effects of case processing time on rearrest unresolved and the
assumptions underlying policies restricting case processing time untested. Given the
limited literature on this topic, this exploratory study aims to begin addressing gaps in
the literature by examining the effects of case processing time on arrest and differences
in this relationship by youth and case-level characteristics.
Theoretical Framework
In the American criminal court system, the right to a speedy trial is guaranteed by the
sixth amendment, to “prevent undue pretrial incarceration, minimize anxiety accom-
panying public accusation, and limit the possibility that a long delay will impair the
ability of an accused to defend himself” (Rudstein, 1975, p. 11, see United States v.
Ewell, 1966). In practice, delays in case processing time often disrupt the swift deliv-
ery of sanctions (Butts, 1996, 1997). According to deterrence theory, sanctions should
be delivered swiftly, be appropriately severe, and must be certain (Nagin, 2013).
Deterrence research suggests the speed of punishment is related to its impact on crimi-
nal behavior for adults and juveniles (Butts et al., 2009), but celerity is an underexam-
ined aspect of deterrence theory (Nagin, 2013; Nagin & Pogarsky, 2001; Pratt &
Turanovic, 2018). Studies find celerity itself is generally not associated with reoffend-
ing after accounting for punishment certainty and severity (Nagin & Pogarsky, 2001;
Yu, 1994).
Delay in the juvenile justice system is thought to have more serious consequences
than delay in the adult justice system due to the unique developmental status of youth
(Butts & Halemba, 1996). In courts with longer case processing times, adolescents
may be adjudicated delinquent and given a disposition for acts committed many

To continue reading

Request your trial

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT