Formal System Processing of Juveniles: Effects on Delinquency: A Systematic Review
Crime and Justice
Objective: Does juvenile system processing reduce subsequent delinquency?
Includsion Criteria: To be eligible, studies had to: (1) use random or quasi-random (e.g., alternation) assignment to allocate participants to conditions; (2) include only juvenile delinquents ages 17 and younger who have not yet been “officially adjudicated” for their current offense; (3) assign such participants to juvenile system processing -- or to an alternative non-system condition; (4) include at least one quantifiable outcome measure of criminal behavior; and (5) be reported through July 2008 (without regard to language).
Search Strategy: Fifteen experiments that met the eligibility criteria were identified from prior reviews conducted by the authors. To augment these 15 trials, we relied on electronic searches of 44 bibliographic databases, examined the citations in over 50 existing meta-analyses and reviews to identify additional randomized studies, and contacted researchers outside the .S. to identify non-US. studies. These additional search strategies yielded 40 studies that required inspection of full-text documents, resulting in an additional 14 experiments that met the eligibility criteria. Taken together with the existing 15 trials from our preceding reviews, these additional searches resulted in a final sample of 29 controlled trials.
Data Collection & Analysis: A preliminary instrument was designed to extract data on substantive and methodological characteristics from each of the 29 trials. Standardized mean differences (Cohen’s ) effect sizes were computed for the first, longest and strongest effects reported in each study for juvenile system processing, using Comprehensive Meta-Analysis (version 2)1. Given the heterogeneity of the sample, analyses of effect sizes were reported assuming random effects models. Main effects were analyzed for each type of crime measure reported: prevalence, incidence, severity and selfreport. Five moderating analyses were also conducted.
Main Results: The studies included 7,304 juveniles across 29 experiments reported over a 35-year period. Juvenile system processing, at least given the experimental evidence presented in this report, does not appear to have a crime control effect. In fact, almost all of the results are negative in direction, as measured by prevalence, incidence, severity, and self-report outcomes. The results are not uniform across every study; one important moderating variable is the type of control group. Studies that compared system processing to a diversion program reported much larger negative effect sizes than those that compared it to “doing nothing.
Authors' Conclusions: Based on the evidence presented in this report, juvenile system processing appears to not have a crime control effect, and across all measures appears to increase delinquency. This was true across measures of prevalence, incidence, severity, and self-report. Given the additional financial costs associated with system processing (especially when compared to doing nothing) and the lack of evidence for any public safety benefit, jurisdictions should review their policies regarding the handling of juveniles.