This study examined how attitudes toward the justice system develop as youth transition into adulthood; how personal experiences with the justice system affect legal socialization; and whether developmental processes regarding attitudes toward the justice system differ for Black, White, and Latino youth.
Data were obtained from a 7-year longitudinal study of male offenders (N-1,114). 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 affected legal socialization. Findings indicate that Black youth held the most negative views of the system during adolescence, followed by Latino youth, and White youth. These racial differences became more pronounced as youth transitioned into adulthood. Although legitimacy and legal cynicism followed similar developmental trajectories, only personal contacts with the justice system affected attitudes toward the legitimacy of the justice system. The mechanisms that affected Black youth's attitudes did 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 were disproportionately contacted by the system. These disproportionate justice system contacts eroded their perceptions of its legitimacy. (publisher abstract modified)