Detention and dosage: Understanding the effects of incarceration on first-time arrestee juvenile delinquents

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This thesis examines the relationship between detention and future recidivism for juvenile delinquents. Labeling and deterrence theorists have each hypothesized as to the effects that official sanction will have on future delinquency. Labeling researchers have observed that official sanction has a deviance amplification effect, causing juveniles to have increased delinquency. Empirical evidence has presented results both supporting and refuting the labeling effect of incarceration. However, many prior studies have not adequately taken the problem of selection bias into account. Juveniles sent to detention may differ significantly from their counterparts sent to probation on a variety of preexisting characteristics. In addition, past research often measures all detention experiences as equal with no consideration that the `dosage' of time spent in detention has a varying effect. The current study follows first-time juvenile offenders in New York City for 18 months who were either sent to probation or placement in detention. Utilizing propensity score matching to balance the punishment groups on preexisting characteristics, results indicate that while an incarceration effect could be observed prior to matching, this effect disappears once the samples are balanced. The dosage issue is difficult to thoroughly measure, but initial evidence suggests that juveniles who spent 12 months or less in detention had a higher probability of being rearrested.