Dec 27, 2010

LD mailbag: juvenile recidivism rates

Regarding the LD January-February 2011 topic, a reader writes,
How would I counter the neg claim that recidivism rates are lower in juvenile courts? I have yet to find a solid turn/take-out.
I would have to see specific warrants before offering specific advice, but in general, there are reasons to cast doubt on such claims. They may involve unfair comparisons or, even when they don't, sampling bias.

Unfair Comparisons
For instanace, it would be unfair to vompare recidivism rates for the entire adult sytem to the entire juvenile system, since the resolution only pertains to juveniles charged with violent felonies. It would definitely be unfair to compare the entire juvenile system to only those juveniles charged as adults.

Sampling Bias
It would even be unfair to compare recidivism rates for juveniles charged with "the same" crimes--because there is likely a difference in the type of juvenile offender charged as an adult, which is the reason a prosecutor has charged them that way. In fact, if the prosecutors are sucessful at determining which defendants are more "hardened," and in their view, deserving harsher punishment, we should expect a higher recidivism rate for a juvenile charged as an adult. In this case, a lower or similar rate would demonstrate that prosecutors have failed at their jobs. (It's possible that some juveniles charged as adults voluntarily acknowledged "capacity," accepting treatment as an adult.)

Without a careful, randomized study employing sophisticated statistical instruments, it would be extremely difficult to tease out any potential sampling bias, making any such statistical comparison automatically suspect.

In sum, here are critical questions to ask about these claims:

1, What groups are being compared? Are the groups roughly equivalent in number and kind?
2. Is it an apples-to-apples comparison? In other words, is the comparison fair?
3. Does the comparison account for sampling bias?

If you have a sample piece of evidence that you'd like evaluated in the light of these questions, share it in the comments.

16 comments:

Chris said...

Thanks so much for your help! I really appreciate that you were able to answer my question... hope your shoulder heals quickly...

J.D. said...

All that I could find was a reference to a BBC study by way of wikipedia (you have to hit the link titled "Recidivism rates") and two separate studies from the state of Washington. While the study of adults was fairly simple, and I found a recidivism rate of 45% among violent criminals, I couldn't figure out the statistic for the study of youth, which was much less clear.

Jim Anderson said...

J.D., thanks; those Washington state stats are pretty interesting, and that document shows the complexity in the juvenile justice system (that for certain crimes, a 16- or 17-year old is automatically charged as an adult, or that juvenile courts can decline jurisdiction, sending juveniles to adult jurisdiction--and that those rules are potentially unique to Washington!).

Compared to non-violent offenses, recidivism rates for violent felonies are significantly lower--and the report says this is "expected," which makes sense, since the punishment is harsher and the stakes / risks / costs to the offender, regardless of conviction, are higher, and the offender already knows this / has learned this through experience.

I'll keep an eye out for larger, potentially more useful datasets.

Anonymous said...

Jim, any cross thoughts?

John Rawls said...

Hey Jim,

Are violent felonies expunged like most minor crimes (for juveniles)? Or, another way of looking at it is: are there any crimes that aren't currently expunged?

Jim Anderson said...

anonymous, good idea. I'll put a post in the hopper.

John Rawls, from what I've seen, violent felonies aren't expunged, even in those states where juvenile records can be expunged (which isn't all of them).

See here and here.

J.D. said...

I found a Website that may or may not be useful. It has a very promising title, and it may be useful to neg, but it's only available to "ScienceNews" subscribers, and I am not one. If there is a subscriber out there, it would be nice if they could comment with any statistics in the article.

Jim Anderson said...

J.D. I have access to the article; it's a report based on the findings from this study.

I'm not sure if the original study is available for free anywhere, but the Science News report is available on ProQuest.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Jim Anderson said...

Lots of weirdly off-topic posts in recent weeks. Let's hope I don't have to start moderating comments again...

Alex said...

Here is some evidence
from http://www.ncjrs.gov/app/QA/Detail.aspx?Id=113&context=9
According to the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) report, Juvenile Offenders and Victims: 2006 National Report, "there is no national recidivism rate for juveniles. Such a rate would not have much meaning since juvenile justice systems vary so much across states." The OJJDP report does, however, contain a summary of findings from recidivism studies conducted at the state-level. You may also wish to conduct a search of the NCJRS Abstracts Database, which contains a number of reports on recidivism at the state level.

Jim Anderson said...

Thanks, Alex. The blog has been hopping, lately, with all kinds of great contributions, regardless of the minor outbreaks of shenanigans from time to time.

Different Alex said...

Hey Jim, I found this to be really interesting. Maybe somebody can pull out a good contention from this

"Evidence that a substantial fraction of the crime reduction results
from deterrence (and not simply incapacitation) comes from analysis
of changes in crime rates around the age of majority. States in
which juvenile punishments are lenient relative to adult punishments
see much greater declines (or smaller increases) in crime as
a cohort passes to the adult court. For example, in states in which
the juvenile courts are most lenient vis-a`-vis the adult courts, violent
crimes committed by a cohort fall by 3.8 percent on average when
the age of majority is reached. In contrast, violent crimes rise 23.1
percent with passage to the adult criminal justice system in those
states in which the juvenile courts are relatively harsh compared to
the adult court. Similar but less extreme patterns are observed for
property crimes. The immediacy with which criminal behavior responds
to this transition suggests that deterrence is the operative
force."

That's from a study called The Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology (1973-) released by Northwestern University

Jim Anderson said...

Different Alex, interesting find. I think it was actually published in an article titled "Juvenile Crime and Punishment," in the Journal of Political Economy in 1998; see here for the cite.

You can find a critique of Levitt's research here.

Anonymous said...

I found a source that said 1/3 of juveniles in the adult legal system aren't even being charged with violent felonies but with burglaries and drug trafficking, etc. So, that casts some doubt on the recidivism stats.

Anonymous said...

Anon above me, do you have the source for that?