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Formal System Processing of Juveniles: Effects on Delinquency

NCJ Number
Anthony Petrosino; Carolyn Turpin-Petrosino; Sarah Guckenburg
Date Published
88 pages

The authors report on their review of studies that were published between 1973 and 2008 and which examined 29 experiments reported over a 35 year period, to determine whether the juvenile justice system processing reduces recidivism.


The objective of this Campbell systematic review is to answer the question: Does juvenile system processing reduce subsequent delinquency? The comprehensive search yielded 29 eligible controlled trials including 7,304 juveniles reported over a 35-year period. Juvenile system processing, at least given the experimental evidence presented in this report, does not appear to have a crime control effect. In fact, almost all of the results are negative in direction, as measured by prevalence, incidence, severity, and self-report outcomes. The results are not uniform across every study; one important moderating variable is the type of control group. Studies that compared system processing to a diversion program reported much larger negative effect sizes than those that compared it to “doing nothing.” Based on the evidence presented in this report, juvenile system processing appears to not have a crime control effect, and across all measures appears to increase delinquency. Given the additional financial costs associated with system processing (especially when compared to doing nothing) and the lack of evidence for any public safety benefit, jurisdictions should review their policies regarding the handling of juveniles. Publisher Abstract Provided