This study examined the extent to which being arrested during adolescence was associated with subsequent self-reported offending and court-recorded arrests, and it also examined whether the way in which the justice system processed adolescents was related to the nature of these associations.
The sample consisted of 532 boys who had been arrested ("justice-system-involved") and 99 boys who had never been arrested despite engaging in similar illegal behaviors ("no-justice-system-contact"). Data included official arrest records and youths' self-reported illegal behavior at a baseline interview and a follow-up 6 months later. To reduce group differences at baseline, the study calculated matching weights with 24 variables and used these weights in all analyses. Results demonstrated that the groups differed in their rate of change in self-reported offending between the two interviews and in their likelihood of being arrested during the study period. The no-justice-system-contact group self-reported the same amount of offending at baseline and the follow up; whereas the justice-system-involved youth who received the most lenient disposition (i.e., sanction and dismiss) decreased their self-reported violent, theft or property, and total offending, and the justice-system-involved youth who received the most punitive disposition (i.e., adjudication) increased their self-reported violent offending. All justice-system-involved youth were more likely to be arrested during the study period than the no-justice-system-contact youth, even after accounting for self-reported offending. Thus, even though some justice system interventions were associated with less subsequent offending, involvement with the juvenile justice system during adolescence, in and of itself, is a significant risk factor for repeated contact with the system. (publisher abstract modified)