We explore the possible deleterious lifelong impacts for youth who serve stints of incarceration in adult jails or prisons.
Our study uses a sample of all youth ages 16 and 17 arrested in New York State in 1987 and follows their criminal careers for 24 years. New York was selected as the state processed, not just some, but all youth of this age as adults, allowing us to overcome issues of selection bias and to use natural variation to create a propensity score matched sample to compare similar youth who either were, or who were not, subject to this punishment. Findings reveal that youth who spent time in an adult jail or prison recidivate more often, more quickly, and commit more total offenses. We also find that being offered youthful offender status, a status that removes the public stigma of a criminal record, reduces recidivism, regardless of the incarceration experience. Our study is situated in theories of deterrence, social learning, and labeling, and we apply our findings to greater societal implications of subjecting youth to punishments traditionally reserved for mature adults.
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