Crime and Punishment

Rethink jail for juvenile justice

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Science  10 Apr 2015:
Vol. 348, Issue 6231, pp. 197-198
DOI: 10.1126/science.348.6231.197-d

The U.S. criminal justice system is strikingly punitive: The incarcerations-to-convictions ratio is 70% larger than that of the next highest country. The U.S. juvenile incarceration rate is five times larger than that of any other country. But we don't randomly assign juveniles to jail, and thus it's difficult to isolate the impacts of incarceration on later-life outcomes, versus the impacts of underlying socioeconomic, cognitive, and other factors that influence juvenile criminal behavior as well as education, employment, and other outcomes. Studying 10 years of data on over 35,000 Chicago juvenile offenders, Aizer and Doyle noticed that judges were randomly assigned to juvenile cases, and judges had different tendencies to sentence incarceration versus probation. Assignment to a high–incarceration-rate judge decreased the likelihood of juveniles completing high school and increased the likelihood of adult incarceration.

Quart. J. Econ. 10.1093/qje/qjv003 (2015).

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