The Structured Assessment of Violence Risk in Youth (SAVRY) is a commonly used risk assessment instrument designed to assess risk of violence in young offenders (Melton et al., 2018). Using the SAVRY, a youth's risk level is rated along historical, social/contextual, and individual/clinical factors that contribute to a juvenile's risk of future violence or violent offending. The SAVRY is a structured professional judgment tool, which is a type of risk assessment tool that provides guidance to the evaluator but also relies on the expertise and judgment of the person conducting the evaluation.


The current study recruits licensed psychologists, psychiatrists, and social workers with experience in conducting juvenile risk assessments to assess the consistency of SAVRY risk assessment scores among licensed clinicians and to examine factors that contribute to their rating of risk. This study will contribute to our understanding of the appropriateness and utility of juvenile risk assessment in juvenile justice contexts.


The Miranda rights are intended to inform suspects of their constitutional protections during interrogation contexts. However, research has found that a high percentage of juveniles waive their rights without understanding of the meaning and importance of their rights (Goldstein, Haney-Caron, Levick, & Whiteman, 2018). A number of jurisdictions have begun to require the presence of an “interested adult” to assist juveniles during this process (Goldstein et al., 2018). However, parents may also hold many fundamental misconceptions about the application of these rights and the realities of police interrogation procedures, and so their presence may not be a source of protection (Viljoen et al., 2005; Woolard et al., 2008).

The current study will collect data on (a) what approaches “interested” parents report they would take in advising their children or in their dealings with the police, and (b) to determine whether the approach taken (i.e., recommending cooperating with the police, waiving Miranda rights, confessing to a crime) differs as a function of the severity of the offense allegedly committed. The findings of this study will contribute to a greater understanding of how adults behave in such a role and whether their presence protects or harms the legal interests of the child, which has substantial policy implications for juvenile interrogation practices.


In the juvenile justice system, over 90% of youth take a plea deal, admitting guilt in exchange for reduced charges or a lighter punishment (Bureau of Justice Statistics, 2013; Redlich, 2010). Despite the large scope and sobering consequences of guilty pleas, research on juvenile guilty pleas is still very limited and has not examined the perspectives of juvenile judges, who are ultimately responsible for ensuring youth plead guilty only with an adequate understanding of the consequences of that decision (e.g., Redlich & Shteynberg, 2016).

The current study is exploratory in nature and seeks to examine juvenile judges’ understandings of the plea bargain process and the procedures they use in their courtroom in entering juveniles’ guilty pleas. Active United States judges who have presided over juvenile or family court will be surveyed about judicial practices and perceptions of the juvenile plea bargaining process. Findings from this study will establish initial data on the factors that judges consider in evaluating the validity of a youth’s plea, allow us to identify aspects of juvenile plea colloquies ripe for future investigation, and contribute to a public policy agenda focused on safeguarding youth from uninformed or involuntary pleas.


Policy work in the Youth Law & Psychology Lab focuses on advocating for approaches to juvenile justice policy that reflect the research literature on juvenile justice and on adolescent development. We develop resources for justice system stakeholders to learn about and utilize evidence-based approaches to juvenile and criminal justice. The Youth Law & Psychology Lab has provided training on adolescent development for public defenders who work with juvenile clients, prosecutors, and social workers who work with justice-involved youth. Trainings focus on adolescent developmental maturity and its relationship to various aspects of youth justice involvement, including interrogation and confession, judgments of culpability, pleas, transfer to the adult system, and dispositions or sentencing. The Youth Law & Psychology Lab is currently collaborating with colleagues to develop resources for judges and attorneys related to best practices in juvenile guilty pleas.

©2019 by Youth Law & Psychology Lab.