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Juvenile Jails: A Path to the Straight and Narrow or to Hardened Criminality?

  • Randi Hjalmarsson

Juvenile justice systems throughout the United States have become increasingly punitive since the 1970s. Most states have passed legislation making it easier to transfer juveniles to the criminal courts. Supporters of this "get tough" movement argue, in part, that juvenile courts are ineffective in deterring young offenders. This claim, however, is based primarily on poorly designed evaluations that do not account for the nonrandom nature of sentencing. This paper demonstrates how the institutional features of the justice system can be exploited to identify causality when true random assignment is not feasible. In particular, I capitalize on discontinuities in punishment that arise in Washington State's juvenile sentencing guidelines to identify the effect of incarceration on the postrelease criminal behavior of juveniles. The results indicate that incarcerated individuals have lower propensities to be reconvicted of a crime. This deterrent effect is also observed for older, criminally experienced, and/or violent youths. (c) 2009 by The University of Chicago. All rights reserved.

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File URL: http://dx.doi.org/10.1086/596039
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Article provided by University of Chicago Press in its journal The Journal of Law and Economics.

Volume (Year): 52 (2009)
Issue (Month): 4 (November)
Pages: 779-809

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Handle: RePEc:ucp:jlawec:v:52:y:2009:i:4:p:779-809
Contact details of provider: Web page: http://www.journals.uchicago.edu/JLE/

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  1. Patrick Bayer & Randi Hjalmarsson & David Pozen, 2009. "Building Criminal Capital behind Bars: Peer Effects in Juvenile Corrections," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 124(1), pages 105-147.
  2. Gary S. Becker, 1974. "Crime and Punishment: An Economic Approach," NBER Chapters, in: Essays in the Economics of Crime and Punishment, pages 1-54 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  3. Joshua D. Angrist & Victor Lavy, 1999. "Using Maimonides' Rule to Estimate the Effect of Class Size on Scholastic Achievement," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 114(2), pages 533-575.
  4. Kessler, Daniel P & Levitt, Steven D, 1999. "Using Sentence Enhancements to Distinguish between Deterrence and Incapacitation," Journal of Law and Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 42(1), pages 343-63, April.
  5. Brian A. Jacob & Lars Lefgren, 2002. "Remedial Education and Student Achievement: A Regression-Discontinuity Analysis," NBER Working Papers 8918, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  6. Steven D. Levitt, 1996. "The Effect of Prison Population Size on Crime Rates: Evidence from Prison Overcrowding Litigation," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 111(2), pages 319-351.
  7. Hjalmarsson, Randi, 2008. "Criminal justice involvement and high school completion," Journal of Urban Economics, Elsevier, vol. 63(2), pages 613-630, March.
  8. Wilbert van der Klaauw, 2002. "Estimating the Effect of Financial Aid Offers on College Enrollment: A Regression-Discontinuity Approach," International Economic Review, Department of Economics, University of Pennsylvania and Osaka University Institute of Social and Economic Research Association, vol. 43(4), pages 1249-1287, November.
  9. Lee, David S., 2008. "Randomized experiments from non-random selection in U.S. House elections," Journal of Econometrics, Elsevier, vol. 142(2), pages 675-697, February.
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