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Adolescent Contact, Lasting Impact? Lessons Learned From Two Longitudinal Studies Spanning 20 Years of Developmental Science Research With Justice-System-Involved Youths

NCJ Number
Psychological Science in the Public Interest Volume: 24 Issue: 3 Dated: Jan 2023 Pages: 133-161
Date Published
January 2023
29 pages

This article provides a summary of key findings from two decades of research conducted at the intersection of developmental psychology and juvenile justice in the United States, examining data on offense predictors and desistence from crime, youth outcomes, emerging research programs, and policy initiatives.


In this article, the authors summarize key findings from 20 years of research conducted at the intersection of developmental psychology and juvenile justice in the United States. They predominantly examine data from two large-scale, multisite longitudinal studies involving justice-system-involved adolescents—the Pathways to Desistance study and the Crossroads study. Topics of discussion include predictors of offending and desistance from crime; youth outcomes and psychosocial needs; and emerging research, programs, and policy initiatives. First, individual-level (e.g., age, psychosocial maturity) and contextual-level (e.g., antisocial peers, exposure to violence) risk factors associated with offending are explored. Second, they discuss short-term and long-term outcomes of justice-system contact for youths engaging in moderate offenses. The authors highlight main findings from the Crossroads study indicating that youths who are sanctioned by the justice system at their first arrest have worse outcomes than youths who are diverted from formal processing. Additionally, they discuss the high prevalence of youths’ exposure to violence and mental health disorders as well as the differential treatment of youths of color in the justice system. Third, the authors extend the conversation to justice-system-involved young adults and discuss emerging, innovative legal solutions, including young adult courts. Last, they discuss real-world implications of these findings. (Published Abstract Provided)

Date Published: January 1, 2023