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Studying Deterrence Among High-Risk Adolescents

NCJ Number
Date Published
August 2015
16 pages
Publication Series
This bulletin presents key findings on the link between perceptions of the threat of sanctions and deterrence from crime among serious adolescent offenders, as determined by the Pathways to Desistance study, which monitored the recidivism of approximately 1,300 serious juvenile offenders for 7 years after their convictions.
The study found that certainty of punishment (a high likelihood of detection and arrest) can have a significant effect in reducing recidivism for some serious juvenile offenders; however, the deterrent effect of increasing the severity of punishment (high probability of imprisonment for a long period) is apparently limited. This process does not operate in the same way for all offenders, because of variables that influence the existence and/or strength of cognitive perceptions of the likelihood of detection and arrest. Arresting youth before they have committed multiple offenses that have gone undetected apparently has the greatest potential to stimulate perceptions of the certainty of arrest and consequent restraints on offending, particularly the types of offending that occasioned the arrest. The authors advocate policies that shift resources from mass imprisonment to improvement in ways of detecting serious crimes, ensuring arrest, and improving investigations that lead to convictions. 3 figures and 56 references

Date Published: August 1, 2015