Background: The juvenile justice system’s interventions are expected to help reduce recidivism. However, previous studies suggest that official processing in juvenile court fails to reduce adolescents’ criminal behavior in the following year. Longer term effects have not yet been investigated with a rigorous method. This study used propensity score matching to assess the impact of juvenile court processing into young adulthood.
Method: Participants were part of a prospective longitudinal study of 1,037 boys from low- socioeconomic areas of Montreal, followed from ages 6–25 years. During their adolescence, 176 participants were processed in juvenile court, whereas 225 were arrested, but not sent to court. Propensity score matching was used to balance the group of participants exposed to juvenile court and the unexposed comparison group on 14 preadolescent child, family and peer characteristics. The two groups were compared on their official adult criminal outcomes.
Results: The risk of conviction for an adult offence was 50.0% for court-processed participants compared with 24.3% for their matched counterparts, OR = 3.13, 95% CI = 1.80–5.44. Court-processed participants committed an average of 0.39 violent crimes, compared with 0.15 for their matched counterparts; Poisson model IRR = 2.60, 95% CI = 1.39–4.87. They also committed an average of 2.38 nonviolent crimes, compared to 1.30 for their matched counterparts, IRR = 1.87, 95% CI = 1.19–2.93.
Conclusions: Rather than decreasing recidivism, juvenile court intervention increased both violent and nonviolent future crimes. Along with previous studies, this study highlights a pressing need for more research and knowledge transfer about effective interventions to reduce recidivism among youths who commit crime.