Crossroads in juvenile justice: The impact of initial processing decision on youth 5 years after first arrest

Elizabeth Cauffman, Jordan Beardslee, Adam Fine, Paul J. Frick, Laurence Steinberg

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    16 Scopus citations


    The current study advances past research by studying the impact of juvenile justice decision making with a geographically and ethnically diverse sample (N = 1,216) of adolescent boys (ages 13-17 years) for the 5 years following their first arrest. Importantly, all youth in the study were arrested for an eligible offense of moderate severity (e.g., assault, theft) to evaluate whether the initial decision to formally (i.e., sentenced before a judge) or informally (i.e., diverted to community service) process the youth led to differences in outcomes. The current study also advanced past research by using a statistical approach that controlled for a host of potential preexisting vulnerabilities that could influence both the processing decision and the youth's outcomes. Our findings indicated that youth who were formally processed during adolescence were more likely to be re-arrested, more likely to be incarcerated, engaged in more violence, reported a greater affiliation with delinquent peers, reported lower school enrollment, were less likely to graduate high school within 5 years, reported less ability to suppress aggression, and had lower perceptions of opportunities than informally processed youth. Importantly, these findings were not moderated by the age of the youth at his first arrest or his race and ethnicity. These results have important implications for juvenile justice policy by indicating that formally processing youth not only is costly, but it can reduce public safety and reduce the adolescent's later potential contributions to society.

    Original languageEnglish (US)
    Pages (from-to)700-713
    Number of pages14
    JournalDevelopment and psychopathology
    Issue number2
    StatePublished - May 2021


    • adolescence
    • diversion
    • inverse probability weighting
    • juvenile justice policy
    • processing decision
    • recidivism
    • risk-taking
    • social policy

    ASJC Scopus subject areas

    • Developmental and Educational Psychology
    • Psychiatry and Mental health


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