Breaking Bad: Mechanisms of Social Influence and the Path to Criminality in Juvenile Jails
47 Pages Posted: 8 Jul 2015 Last revised: 13 Oct 2015
Date Written: October 12, 2015
Using rich data on youths in juvenile correctional facilities, I conduct a series of tests of peer influence on future crime motivated by three mechanisms: criminal skill transfer, the formation of new criminal networks, and the social contagion of crime-oriented attitudes and behavioral habits. Identifying peer influence off of natural variation in small cohorts within the same facility, I find evidence consistent with the social contagion mechanism: exposure to peers who come from unstable homes and who have behavioral/emotional problems leads to a large increase in crime after release, as well as an increase in crime-oriented non-cognitive factors. I also find evidence consistent with persistent network formation, but only in settings which unite youths from the same local area. Multiple tests of the identifying assumptions support the causal argument.
Keywords: Peer effects, Crime, Non-Cognitive Skills, Juvenile Incarceration
JEL Classification: K14, K42, J00
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation