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Adult criminal outcomes of juvenile justice involvement

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  10 March 2022

William E. Copeland*
Department of Psychiatry, University of Vermont College of Medicine, Burlington, VT, USA Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, Duke University Medical Center, Wilson Center for Science and Justice, Duke School of Law, Durham, NC, USA
Guangyu Tong
Yale Center for Analytical Sciences and Department of Biostatistics, Yale University, New Haven, CT, USA
Elizabeth J. Gifford
Center for Child and Family Policy and the Children's Health and Discovery Initiative, Duke University, Durham, NC, USA
Michele M. Easter
Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, Duke University Medical Center, Wilson Center for Science and Justice, Duke School of Law, Durham, NC, USA
Lilly Shanahan
Jacobs Center for Productive Youth Development & Department of Psychology, University of Zurich, Zurich, Switzerland
Marvin S. Swartz
Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, Duke University Medical Center, Wilson Center for Science and Justice, Duke School of Law, Durham, NC, USA
Jeffrey W. Swanson
Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, Duke University Medical Center, Wilson Center for Science and Justice, Duke School of Law, Durham, NC, USA
Author for correspondence: William E. Copeland, E-mail:



The juvenile justice system in the USA adjudicates over seven hundred thousand youth in the USA annually with significant behavioral offenses. This study aimed to test the effect of juvenile justice involvement on adult criminal outcomes.


Analyses were based on a prospective, population-based study of 1420 children followed up to eight times during childhood (ages 9–16; 6674 observations) about juvenile justice involvement in the late 1990 and early 2000s. Participants were followed up years later to assess adult criminality, using self-report and official records. A propensity score (i.e. inverse probability) weighting approach was used that approximated an experimental design by balancing potentially confounding characteristics between children with v. without juvenile justice involvement.


Between-groups differences on variables that elicit a juvenile justice referral (e.g. violence, property offenses, status offenses, and substance misuse) were attenuated after applying propensity-based inverse probability weights. Participants with a history of juvenile justice involvement were more likely to have later official and violent felony charges, and to self-report police contact and spending time in jail (ORs from 2.5 to 3.3). Residential juvenile justice involvement was associated with the highest risk of both, later official criminal records and self-reported criminality (ORs from 5.1 to 14.5). Sensitivity analyses suggest that our findings are likely robust to potential unobserved confounders.


Juvenile justice involvement was associated with increased risk of adult criminality, with residential services associated with highest risk. Juvenile justice involvement may catalyze rather than deter from adult offending.

Original Article
Copyright © The Author(s), 2022. Published by Cambridge University Press

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