SJC Professor Receives Grant Funding For Her Research

January 16, 2014

BROOKLYN, N.Y. January 17, 2013  St. Josephs College is pleased to announce that Dr. Tina Zottoli, assistant professor of psychology on the Colleges Brooklyn Campus, recently received a grant from the American Psychology-Law Society (APLS) to support her research on the competency of youthful offenders to enter into plea bargain agreements in court. This $5,000 grant will support the second phase of her project to assess the capacity of juvenile offenders to comprehend the potential consequences of entering into arrangements with prosecutors.

Every year, approximately 250,000 youth are adjudicated in criminal court each year and the vast majority of these youth accept plea deals. There is a dearth of research on whether or not adolescents can competently enter into plea deals, and, to date, there has been no study to address this question with respect to juvenile offenders (i.e., youth between the ages of 13 and 16 who are tried as adults and may face felony convictions). 

Dr. Zottoli initially started to close this gap through a series of detailed interviews with juvenile offenders who have accepted felony pleas in New York. 

"Youth in our study varied considerably in their understanding of the consequences attached to a felony conviction and many cited short term benefits (e.g., not having to wait any longer in jail) as reasons for accepting their plea deals, said Dr. Zottoli. "The grant we have been awarded by APLS will fund a follow-up study wherein we will conduct detailed interviews and additional assessments with a new sample of juvenile offenders and a comparison sample of adult offenders, all of whom have accepted plea deals for felony offenses in the past year.

From this research, Dr. Zottoli seeks to articulate formal policy recommendations that may improve the perceived and actual fairness of the plea negotiation process for juvenile offenders. Another key outcome of this research will be the development of a comprehensive checklist that will provide attorneys with a means to assess whether or not their clients are competent to enter into a plea bargain with prosecutors.

"Dr. Zottoli's research will make a lasting impact in ensuring a more fair and productive juvenile justice system that will ultimately make our city a safer place to live," said Dr. Richard Greenwald, Executive Dean on the Brooklyn Campus of SJC. "Her scholarship is yet another example of excellence at the College. We are all fortunate to have her in our community of learners.