Could Labeling Accused Teens “Delinquent” Cause More Crime?


Could sending juveniles through the youth justice system increase delinquency? That’s what researchers who reviewed 29 experiments involving 7,300 juveniles over 35 years concluded in a study sponsored by the Campbell Collaboration. “It is possible that labeling is the key ingredient, i.e., that juveniles following official processing are more likely to identify themselves (and be identified by others) as a ‘delinquent’,” say authors Anthony Petrosino of Woburn, Ma.-based WestEd, with Carolyn Turpin-Petrosino, and Sarah Gluckenburg.

Police officers, district attorneys, juvenile court intake officers, juvenile and family court judges, and other officials decide whether youths should be processed by the juvenile justice system or diverted to a program, counseling, other services – or released, the study notes. An important policy question is which strategy leads to the best outcome for juveniles. Among issues raised by the report is why justice-system processing appears to fail the most with juveniles who seem to warrant a formal system response, based on extensive prior records.

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