Desistance the rule, with or without incarceration
The most thorough study to date, just released by The U.S. Department of Justice, brings lots of good news about criminal desistance among serious adolescent offenders.
The most important finding is that even adolescents who have committed serious offenses are not necessarily on track for adult criminal careers. Only a small proportion of the offenders studied continued to offend at a high level throughout the followup period.
The other critical finding was that incarceration is for the most part unnecessary and ineffective:
Longer stays in juvenile facilities did not reduce reoffending; institutional placement even raised offending levels in those with the lowest level of offending.
Instead, the study found, interventions that combined community-based supervision and substance abuse treatment helped youthful offenders stay in school, get jobs, and avoid further offending.
"Pathways to Desistance" is a multidisciplinary project that intensively followed 1,354 serious juvenile offenders ages 14 to 18 (184 girls and 1,170 boys) in metropolitan Arizona and Pennsylvania for 7 years after their convictions. Data included multiple interviews with the young offenders and their families, and analyses of official records. Edward Mulvey, Ph.D., director of the Law and Psychiatry Program at the University of Pittburgh Medical School, authored the study, which was just released by the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention.
The findings should be welcome news not only for young miscreants and their loved ones, but also for taxpayers, as it supports the current move toward less expensive community interventions as an alternative to costly juvenile prisons.