Rebecca Hinze-Pifer. An Evaluation of the Academic and Behavioral Outcomes Produced by Juvenile Arrest Processing through the Cook County Peer Jury Diversion Program ($29K)

Early contact with the juvenile justice system may have lasting impacts on adolescent life trajectories, even for youths who are never re-arrested. Formal juvenile court processing may heighten scrutiny from police and school personnel, change the social labels applied to the youth by family and peers, and increase exposure to peers who engage in more serious delinquent behaviors – all of which have the potential to interfere with educational success, employment, and other important pathways into adulthood (e.g. Bernburg & Krohn, 2003; Liberman et al., 2014; Petitclerc et al., 2012; Petrosino et al., 2013). Diversion programs attempt to lessen these impacts by assigning less stigmatizing sanctions within a restorative justice framework; however, justice systems in some settings have responded to diversion pathways by “widening the net,” diverting youth who would have otherwise faced release to a responsible adult instead of formal adjudication (e.g. Macallair & Male, 2004). Youth courts, in which adolescents take on crucial court roles, are a widespread diversion option, processing more than 130,000 cases annually, or approximately 9% of all juvenile arrests (Schneider, 2007). Despite their vast reach, existing research on youth courts is underpowered, often lacks a plausible comparison group, fails to address potential net-widening effects of youth court programs, and focuses almost exclusively on recidivism as an outcome. Using four years of Cook County juvenile arrest and processing data combined with longitudinal education data from the Chicago Public Schools, this project will use a k-nearest neighbor propensity score matching approach to estimate the impacts of having an arrest processed through the youth courts. The results will be the first large sample, causally credible estimate of the impact of youth court processing on participants’ educational and behavioral outcomes, providing valuable evidence to inform juvenile diversion policy.

hinze.jpgRebecca Hinze-Pifer
(Harris School of Public Policy)