Race and Justice System Attitude Formation During the Transition to Adulthood

Adam Fine, Elizabeth Cauffman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

50 Scopus citations


Purpose: Although attitudes towards the justice system are directly related to crime commission, few studies have examined how these attitudes develop from adolescence through early adulthood. Further, despite knowledge that minority youth experience disproportionate contact with the justice system, it is unknown how legal socialization differs by racial group. This study investigates how attitudes towards the justice system develop as youth transition into adulthood, examines how personal experiences with the justice system affect legal socialization, and determines whether developmental processes differ for Black, White, and Latino youth. Methods: Data were obtained from a 7-year longitudinal study of male offenders (N = 1114). Individual growth curve models were used to examine attitude formation from adolescence into adulthood. Time-varying effects models were used to examine how experiences with the justice system affect legal socialization. Results: Findings indicate that Black youth hold the most negative views of the system during adolescence, followed by Latino youth, and White youth. These racial differences become more pronounced as youth transition into adulthood. Further, although legitimacy and legal cynicism follow similar developmental trajectories, personal contacts with the justice system only affect legitimacy. Conclusions: Legal socialization from adolescence into young adulthood varies by race. The mechanisms that affect Black youth’s attitudes do not affect Latino youths’ attitudes, indicating that aggregating racial groups may mask meaningful differences. Despite engaging in the same amount of offending as White and Latino youth, Black youth are disproportionately contacted by the system. These disproportionate justice system contacts erode their perceptions of its legitimacy.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)325-349
Number of pages25
JournalJournal of Developmental and Life-Course Criminology
Issue number4
StatePublished - Dec 1 2015
Externally publishedYes


  • Legal socialization
  • Race and procedural justice
  • Transition to adulthood

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Applied Psychology
  • Law
  • Life-span and Life-course Studies


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