In the presence of ample tryptophan, transcription from the Bacillus subtilis trp operon promoter terminates to give a 140-nucleotide trp leader RNA. Turnover of trp leader RNA has been shown to depend on RNase J1 cleavage at a single-stranded, AU-rich region just upstream of the 3′ transcription terminator. The small size of trp leader RNA and its strong dependence on RNase J1 cleavage for decay make it a suitable substrate for analyzing the requirements for RNase J1 target site specificity. trp leader RNAs with nucleotide changes around the RNase J1 target site were more stable than wild-type trp leader RNA, showing that sequences on either side of the cleavage site contribute to RNase J1 recognition. An analysis of decay intermediates from these mutants suggested limited 3′-to-5′ exonuclease processing from the native 3′ end. trp leader RNAs were designed that contained wild-type or mutant RNase J1 targets elsewhere on the molecule. The presence of an additional RNase J1 cleavage site resulted in faster RNA decay, depending on its location. Addition of a 5′ tail containing 7 A residues caused destabilization of trp leader RNAs. Surprisingly, addition at the 5′ end of a strong stem loop structure that is known to stabilize other RNAs did not result in a longer trp leader RNA half-life, suggesting that the RNase J1 cleavage site may be accessed directly. In the course of these experiments, we found evidence that polynucleotide phosphorylase processivity was inhibited by a GCGGCCGC sequence.