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Juvenile Justice VS. Recidivism

Professor Sergio Sanchez

Joshua Johnson-Domio

POLS 331-CSU Chico


The effect of the juvenile justice system on Recidivism

Juvenile delinquency is a major problem that lacks the proper attention in the United States. In the news we always hear about adult criminal activity, new laws being passed, and so forth; but rarely do we ever hear about the juvenile delinquents and what happens with them. Over 2.1 million juveniles were arrested in the United States in 2008 and over 80,000 were housed in juvenile detention or correctional facilities (Abrams 2011, 492). This literature review will focus on the effect of the juvenile justice system on recidivism rates. What is meant by recidivism rate is the rate that prior offenders re offend after being released back into the community.While offenders are punished for their crimes, little is done to deter them from continuing a life of crime. Most juvenile offenders tend to recidivate into their adult years. If this occurs, crime will continue to rise as our youth mature and grow up. In order to prevent this, we must understand what causes a juvenile delinquent to recidivate and what will deter them. What is more effective at reducing recidivism rates, rehabilitation or punitive programs?

Some studies show 50 percent of incarcerated youth will have repeat contact with the juvenile justice system (Abrams 2011, 493). Juvenile offenders account for 15 percent of all violent crimes and 24 percent of all property crimes (Ryan 2013, 2). With juveniles making up this portion of crimes, the crime rate is sure to increase if juveniles continue to recidivate into adulthood. Our main focus should not be on adult offenders. Since our youth are the offenders of tomorrow, we should concentrate on rehabilitating juvenile offenders. If we cannot stop recidivism amongst juveniles, then there is even less hope of stopping crime rates from rising. My hypothesis is that juvenile recidivism rates will continue to increase (Dependent Variable) if punishment is imposed on juveniles rather than rehabilitation (Independent Variable). My literature review will seek to answer how the juvenile justice system encourages future criminality, and which juveniles are more at risk of recidivism than others as well as provide reasoning and empirical research.

The system we currently have in play contributes to and causes recidivism in juveniles. This system is retributive justice, which is the theory that holds an offender accountable for a crime by imposing a punishment on them to stigmatise the offender. The theory of retributive justice defines crime as a violation of the state, focuses on establishing guilt for past offenses, makes punishment the definition for offender accountability, replaces one social injury with another (incarceration or punishment), and creates adversarial relationships between the victim and offender. This current system labels the offender as criminal and makes it hard to see anything other than that, causing more criminal behavior. Recidivation also occurs because incarceration actually worsens inmates anti social attitudes and behaviors and teaches them more about crime from other criminals who help offenders develop new skills. Since this form of justice treats crime as a violation of the state the victim is often ignored and left out of the justice process for the most part, if the victim is left out how will an offender be able to repair the harm besides being punished for it? When the offender is given the chance to take active steps to make voluntary reparation to the victim and the victim is given a chance to let the offender know how they have impacted their life, it is usually therapeutic to the victims, and the offender can restore their reputation through reparation and be better prepared for reintegration into the community after facing up to the reality of what they have done (Johnstone, 2001). Punishment is used as a response to crime in retributive justice in order to deter abusers and stimulate behavioral change; however, if we keep imposing punishment rather than rehabilitation, juvenile offenders will continue to recidivate. Incarceration just makes the innocent suffer for the crime and pay through taxation to support the offender, and the offender eventually (in most cases) has to be released and if the offenders outlook has not improved or has worsened then the offender is likely to recidivate.

A portion of my research focuses on restorative justice, which is the theory that holds an offender accountable for a crime by helping them understand the impact of their actions and making things right (Zehr 2001, 81). After becoming familiar with many different authors research and literature, the qualities of restorative justice that tend to come up on more than one occasion and stand out are: 1) Crime is defined as a violation of one person by another 2) Reconciliation between the victim and offender must be the goal 3) Focus must be more on abating conflict and promoting harmony rather than finding truth and justice 4) Victims must be involved 5) Offenders should be reintegrated into the society they have offended 6) Victims need to be assured they won’t be re-victimized. To summarize, restorative justice, unlike retributive justice, defines crime as a violation of one person by another, focuses on problem solving for the future, uses restitution as a means of restoring both parties (the victim and offender), defines the success of justice by the outcome and relationship between the parties, uses the community as the facilitator in the restorative process, and defines offender accountability as understanding impact of action and helping decide how to make things right . Restorative Justice is a problem solving approach to crime which involves the parties themselves (victim and offender) and the community. It is a process where the parties with a stake in a specific offense resolve collectively how to deal with the aftermath of the offense and its implications for the future. The goals of restorative justice are to attend fully to the victims needs, whether they be financial emotional or social, to prevent re offending by integrating offenders into the community, to enable offenders to take responsibility, to recreate a working community supporting rehabilitation, and to avoid escalation.

An author discusses two particular cases where a teenager was arrested for a robbery. They were both victims of child abuse, homeless, had a bad relationship with their family as well as most of their teachers, and felt alienated from the world. One young man was sent to court and sentenced to six months of incarceration where he suffered more violence and acquired a heroin habit. When released he comes out more desperate and alienated then when he was first incarcerated. He “sustains his drug habit for the next 20 years by stealing cars, burgles dozens of houses and pushes drugs to others until he dies in a gutter, a death no one mourns”(Braithwaite 2001, 308). The difference between this young man and the other is that rather than being incarcerated, he was referred by an arresting officer to a facilitator who convenes a restorative justice conference. Since the young man disliked his family and teachers the facilitator tried to track down people who treated him well. He brought in the young man's sister, uncle, hockey coach, and the victim along with her daughter to participate in the conference. They sat in a circle while the facilitator introduced everyone, the young man/offender named Sam is then asked explain what happened in his own words. His uncle is then asked what he thinks of Sam’s response, followed by the hockey coach, and then his sister who was too emotional to speak. Then the victim explains how the robbery caused her a lot of trouble and her daughter lets Sam know that her mother is now afraid to go out in fear of being revictimized. After taking a break the conference resumed and Sam’s sister speaks to him with love and strength, causing the victim to cry out of understanding of Sam’s situation. Once his sister started speaking Sam became emotionally engaged in the conference and apologizes to the victim for what he has done. He says he would like to pay it back but has no job or money, and ensures her that he is not going to stalk her. Feeling relieved the victim says she wants her money back but would feel better if they can talk about what to do to help Sam find a home and job. His sister says he can stay with her for a while, the hockey coach says he has casual work for him to do that would be enough to pay his debt back and leave him a bit extra, and he says if Sam does well he will write him a reference for applications for permanent jobs. As the conference ends Sam apologizes again and the victim hugs him and tearfully wishes him good luck, in the end she got her money back and Sam maintained employment and mostly stayed out of trouble. As this story demonstrates, social background can play a big part in the crime and recidivism rates, as well as social relationships. If the first young man who was sent to jail was dealt with using restorative justice he may have possibly survived longer than he did.

Calley and Richardson present a study which partially uses social relationships as a determinant factor in recidivism. The study examines factors that influence clinician predictions of recidivism among juvenile offenders. Some of the factors they used for their study were age at initial justice system involvement, age at discharge, program completion status, clinician perception of the therapeutic relationship, and clinician perception of the youths commitment to treatment. The conclusions for this study stated that when comparing involvement age, as well as discharge age, and recidivism there is no significance. Contrary to their prediction, clinicians were 3.46 times as likely to predict no recidivism for youth who completed the program. The chance of a clinician predicting no recidivism increased by 3.38 times for each of the four levels of increase in therapeutic relationship, and increasing levels of commitment to treatment increased the chance of clinicians predicting no recidivism. Chui and Chang contribute a determinant factor not mentioned in the Calley and Richardson article; type of crime committed. This article discusses a study where short term recidivism (six months) was measured for 92 male juvenile offenders aged 14-20 years old. According to the author, this study was among the first in asian societies to test the effects of personality and psychosocial attributes in predicting the risk of recidivism among these juveniles. Out of the 92 probationers 28 (30%) violated the probation order. 82% of those who reoffended were non-violent offenders and the other 18% that reoffended had previously committed a violent offense, meaning that juvenile probationers who were adjudicated for committing a violent offense were less likely to reoffend than nonviolent crime adjudicated juvenile probationers during the 6 months follow-up. So far the examples I have gven discuss possible contributing factors that have to do with the offender themselves rather than factors that may stem from the actual juvenile justice system.

The “Recidivism in subgroups of serious juvenile offenders: Different profiles different risks” article introduces this possibility very nicely. This article states that the treatment of juvenile offenders is most effective when it takes into account the possible risk factors for reoffending. The aims of the authors were to find out whether serious juvenile offenders may be subdivided into clearly defined subgroups and whether such subgroups might differ in terms of the risk factors that predict recidivism. Four distinct subgroups of juvenile offenders were identified: serious violent offenders, violent property offenders, property offenders, and sex offenders. Differences in recidivism rates occurred in spite of the fact that most of these offenders had been in the standard treatment programme offered to serious juvenile offenders in the Netherlands. Two of the groups identified in the study appeared to be worse after going through the programme, whereas the other two did well in terms of recidivism. The Ryan, Williams, and Courtney article states that victims of child abuse and neglect are more prone to becoming involved with the juvenile justice system. Once in the system neglect, along with parental monitoring/rejection and family relationships, must play a critical role in recidivism according to the authors. They concluded that youth coming to the juvenile justice system with no official reports of neglect with child welfare were significantly older. They also reported higher levels of family support, family income, supervision, lower levels of physical violence, and appropriate punishment. The Dalun article expands on how offenders may be receiving inadequate treatment. This article discusses how a certain group of juvenile delinquents, those with disabilities, are more vulnerable to recidivism. Youth with emotional disorders (ED) are disproportionately represented in the juvenile justice system. Although youth with ED have a prevalence rate of 8.2% among students with disabilities in school settings, the corresponding prevalence rate in correctional facilities is 47.7%. In examining recidivism patterns involving individuals with disabilities, findings indicate group variability. This variability differentiated subgroups with regard to the number of referrals and percentage of adolescents who were adjudicated, had a record of determinate commitment (specific length of incarceration), and had a record of probation. One persistent pattern that warranted further investigation involved African American males from delinquent families; these individuals tend to have more referrals than others (Dalun 2011). However, the Clark article discusses a study involving the treatment of juveniles with disabilities in the system. This study explores the effect of basic and enhanced transition services on the recidivism of juveniles with disabilities. The article describes the transition services that are provided and shares the results of a year-long, randomized, single blind, quasi-experimental study of post-release recidivism. Results showed that youth with disabilities who received enhanced services from a transition specialist were 64% less likely to recidivate. The Young article targets the impact of probation models on juvenile offenders. At this point in my research it was clear that classification of juvenile offenders may lead to more targeted treatment programmes that would better serve both the general public and the youths concerned.

To sum up, retributive justice can have negative consequences on most juvenile offenders. Although youth may enter the justice system for problems that stem from social relationships or social background, the system in play makes certain juveniles more at risk for recidivation. If juvenile offenders were classified according to social background, as well as risk factors and previous offenses, and then sorted into different treatment facilities there would be a significant impact upon juvenile recidivism. My literature review has demonstrated how retributive justice can have a negative impact as far as future criminality. If restorative justice were our main focus, we could possibly cut the recidivism rates down and decrease future crime rates.

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