Judges, Probation Officers, and District Attorneys are tasked with evaluating cases of suspected juvenile offending and determining which youth to channel into the justice system and which to divert from formal processing. How do they make this decision? How should they make this decision? In spite of the widely varying costs of different justice system outcomes, there is very little research examining the factors that juvenile justice professionals consider when making these determinations. There is even less empirical research aimed at informing these decisions and those of other justice system arbiters in order to maximize benefits and limit long term costs to society. As a result, juvenile case processing is characterized by inconsistency, even within a single state.
The goal of the Crossroads Study is to create an empirical foundation for developing decision-making guidelines for juvenile justice professionals that serve the best interest of the community, the taxpayers, and delinquent youths. Crossroads is funded by the MacArthur Foundation and the federal Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention). The study follows 1,200 male juvenile offenders (ages 13-17) of different degrees of justice system involvement biannually over three years following an arrest in Philadelphia, PA; Jefferson Parish, LA; and Orange County, CA. The objectives are to:
- Examine the developmental consequences of adolescents’ involvement in the justice system and the costs and/or benefits of these outcomes. Areas of development will include academic achievement, employment, psychosocial maturity, antisocial attitudes, mental health, social relationships, and (antisocial) behavior.
- Identify the characteristics of a youth and/or his offense that render him more or less prone to benefit from justice system involvement. Factors to be considered will include neighborhood characteristics; family, peer, and romantic relationships; relationships with non-kin adults; psychosocial maturity; mental health; emotional and neurological functioning; and past behavior.
The goal of this study is to investigate how youths’ first contact with the juvenile justice system affects development, as compared to the behavior of peers who engage in the same criminal behavior but are never caught. To achieve this goal, this study investigates a sample of peers who have engaged in the same illegal behaviors as Crossroads youth, but have never had official justice system contact as a result of their crimes. This will allow a comparison between two groups of delinquent youth: (1) those who are caught and processed by the juvenile justice system, from the Crossroads study; and (2) those who evade law enforcement and remain free from contact, from the present study. Youth in the two groups ("caught" and "not caught") will be matched on key demographic and behavioral variables and I will investigate whether (and how) youths' first contact with the justice system affects subsequent academic engagement (e.g., school misconduct, school bonding, school performance) and illegal behavior.
Juvenile offending inflicts enormous costs on individual offenders, their families and their communities. Adolescent offenders do not exist in a vacuum, but in a broader context, a major portion of which includes their parents. Though there is an abundance of evidence that parental support plays a key role in a child’s success in other domains of function, the role that parents play in adolescent offenders’ probation success is largely unstudied. Offending youths’ failure to successfully complete probation may lead to deeper penetration into the justice system, while success may lead to desistance from offending. Through structured interviews with the mothers/female guardians of Crossroads youth participants, this study seeks to clarify the role parents play in the success of juvenile offenders within the juvenile justice system.