Juvenile justice officials tend to process youth of color formally (through the court) rather than through informal means that divert the youth from court proceedings. Cauffman and colleagues hypothesize that youth who are informally processed have relatively better outcomes because they do not have a juvenile record. Adolescents who have no involvement with the juvenile justice system are more likely to graduate from high school and enroll in college, and are seven times more likely to be employed as adults. The team seeks to understand whether and how informal processing leads to more positive outcomes for first-time youth offenders of color. This study builds on prior work, which focused on first time youth offenders who had a chance of receiving either formal or informal processing; the study matched youth across these two conditions and examined their history of re-offending, educational attainment, and employment. This current work will extend the study to a seven-year follow-up. The team will conduct in-person interviews, as well as analyze data from courts, schools, and probation and social service agencies. Analyses of processing effects and mechanisms rely on propensity score matching. Cost-benefit analyses will identify the criminal justice costs (staff compensation, institutionalization); offender costs (lost wages); social service use (public assistance, disability); and the societal costs of re-offending (productivity). By examining mechanisms underlying why informal processing leads to more positive outcomes, Cauffman and colleagues seek to inform the development of policies and practices to promote better outcomes for youth of color.
Does diverting first time youth offenders from the court system have long-term benefits as they transition to adulthood?