Juvenile Jails: A Path to the Straight and Narrow or Hardened Criminality?
University of Maryland - School of Public Policy
September 24, 2008
Journal of Law and Economics, Vol. 52, 2009
Juvenile justice systems throughout the United States have become increasingly punitive since the 1970s. Most states have passed legislation making it easier to transfer juveniles to the criminal courts. Supporters of this 'get tough' movement argue, in part, that juvenile courts are ineffective in deterring young offenders. This claim, however, is primarily based on poorly designed evaluations that do not account for the non-random nature of sentencing. This paper demonstrates how the institutional features of the justice system can be exploited to identify causality when true random assignment is not feasible. In particular, I capitalize on discontinuities in punishment that arise in Washington State's juvenile sentencing guidelines to identify the effect of incarceration on the post-release criminal behavior of juveniles. The results indicate that incarcerated individuals have lower propensities to be reconvicted of a crime. This deterrent effect is also observed for older, criminally experienced, and/or violent youths.
Keywords: juvenile crime, recidivism, incarceration, deterrence
JEL Classification: J13, K14, K42
Date posted: September 25, 2008