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Understanding Juvenile Pre-adjudicatory Detention and Front-End Juvenile Case Processing: The Moderating Role of Race

Journal of Criminal Justice (2022)

Published onApr 07, 2022
Understanding Juvenile Pre-adjudicatory Detention and Front-End Juvenile Case Processing: The Moderating Role of Race

ABSTRACT

Purpose – This study expands our knowledge regarding the effects of pre-adjudicatory detention by examining the moderating role of a juvenile’s race/ethnicity on the association between pre-adjudicatory detention and juvenile court outcomes (e.g., dismissal, adjudication, or disposition outcome decisions).

Methods – The current study draws on data from the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice and employs both logistic regression and an analysis of the resulting predicted probabilities to examine the moderating effect of race/ethnicity on the association between pre-adjudicatory detention and three distinct juvenile case outcomes.

Results – Results suggest that the relationship between pre-adjudicatory detention and the likelihood of case dismissal and adjudication differs significantly among Black, White, and Hispanic youth. When the analysis was limited to youth who had been adjudicated, however, the positive association observed between time spent detained and the restrictiveness of placement following disposition was equivalent among the groups examined.

Conclusions – Since the effects of pre-adjudicatory detention on some front-end juvenile case processing outcomes vary by race, it is crucial to develop interventions/policies to reduce disparities in this type of detention, especially for Black youth.

CITATION

Thomas, C., Wolff, K.T., and Baglivio, M.T. (2022). Understanding juvenile pre-adjudicatory detention and front-end juvenile case processing: The moderating role of race. Journal of Criminal Justice, 81: 101916


INTRODUCTION

Almost 187,000 young people in the U.S. in 2019 were admitted to local juvenile detention centers before the disposition of their cases, with almost 16,000 youth on any given night held prior to an adjudicatory hearing (hereafter “pre-adjudicatory detention”)1 (Sickmund, Sladky & Kang, 2021). This represents a significant decrease in juvenile pre-adjudicatory detention from a high of more than 400,000 youth detained in 2004 during the era of mass incarceration, as some courts across the U.S. have deliberately moved toward reducing how many young people are held before adjudication in detention centers (Ogle & Turanovic, 2019; Sickmund et al., 2021; Trulson, Haerle, Caudill, & DeLisi, 2016). Decisions about juvenile detention are typically left to the discretion of individual courts, with patterns and practices varying widely across the U.S. (National Juvenile Defense Center, 2019; Walker & Herting, 2020). For example, many local courts continue to rely more heavily on juvenile pre-adjudicatory detention practices because such detention is seen as a measure that promotes individual accountability, reduces community safety risks, and ensures that young people show up to their hearings (Schlossman & Welsh, 2015; Walker & Bishop, 2016; Walker & Herting, 2020).

Juvenile pre-adjudicatory detention is typically relatively short in duration. In 2019, detained youth experienced an average stay of 27 days in detention prior to the disposition of their case, with some released after only a day or two (Sickmund et al., 2021). Yet there is compelling evidence from the adult context that even brief experiences in adult pretrial detention worsen adults’ case outcomes and disrupt adults’ economic, social, and psychological trajectories (Anderson, Cochran, & Montes, 2021; Wakefield and Andersen, 2020). Little is known about the extent to which relatively brief stints detained might similarly affect youth outcomes, especially since only a few prior studies on the effects of detention have disaggregated pre-adjudicatory detention from other types of juvenile confinement (e.g., Gilman et al., 2021; Loughran et al., 2009; Walker & Herting, 2020).

Aside from the potentially deleterious consequences of pre-adjudicatory detention more generally, racial disparities concerning which youth are detained raise questions of racial equity (Lowery & Smith, 2020; Rodriguez, 2013). Among youth who are detained pre-adjudication, Black youth experience particularly disproportionate contact. In 2019, 40.2% of detained youth were Black (while 14.8% of all youths aged 10 to 18 were Black), whereas 33.8% of detained youth were White (while 53.1% of all youths aged 10 to 18 were White) (Sickmund et al., 2021).2 These figures correspond to ratios of 2.72 Black youth detained for every Black youth aged 10 to 18, compared to 0.64 White youth detained for every White youth age 10 to 18. Such stark racial disparities prompt questions about how Black youth in particular might be disproportionately affected by pre-adjudicatory detention.

While some prior research has conceptualized the role of pre-adjudicatory detention in predicting juvenile recidivism (Walker & Herting, 2020), less is known about the potential impact of pre-adjudicatory detention as distinct from other types of juvenile confinement on downstream case outcomes. Further, a gap exists surrounding the interrelated role of pre-adjudicatory detention and race in informing early juvenile court processing. Additionally, consideration of the effects of time detained prior to adjudication, such as the number of days detained, is deserving of further examination.

The current study addresses this void in the literature by examining the moderating role of a juvenile’s race/ethnicity with pre-adjudicatory detention and front-end processing court decisions (e.g., dismissal, adjudication, or disposition outcome decisions). Policy implications surrounding the detention of justice-involved youth before adjudication hearings across racial lines and suggestions for future research are discussed.

LITERATURE REVIEW

Effect of Pre-Adjudicatory Detention on Downstream Outcomes

Studies of juvenile detention on later justice system outcomes usually do not focus on pre-adjudicatory detention, as distinct from other types of stays in juvenile detention facilities (Gilman et al., 2021; Loughran et al., 2009). For example, Aizer and Doyle (2015) found that eighth graders who experienced juvenile detention were 16% more likely to be incarcerated as adults compared to other justice-involved youth. In a study of youth in Arizona and Pennsylvania, Pyrooz, Gartner, and Smith (2017) found that any form of juvenile detention strengthened gang membership. In both studies, the detention measure combined pre-adjudicatory detention with other forms of detention (such as post-adjudication detention while awaiting residential placement or being detained for violations of probation).

The small literature focused specifically on the impact of youth pre-adjudicatory detention on later case outcomes demonstrates adverse downstream consequences (Bishop & Frazier, 1995; Frazier & Bishop, 1985; Secret & Johnson, 1997). For example, Rodriguez (2010) observed over 23,000 youth referred to a juvenile court, finding that pre-adjudicatory detention was significantly associated with a higher likelihood of a filed petition, adjudication, and out-of-home placement. Rodriguez argues this association can be explained by detained youth being perceived by later court decision-makers as more blameworthy. A recent study focused on recidivism found pre-adjudicatory detention was associated with a 33% increase in felony recidivism and 11% increase in misdemeanor recidivism within one year (Walker & Herting, 2020). However, there is a gap in the literature on the potential downstream consequences of this phase of detention on case outcomes, especially since the impact of pretrial detention on case outcomes is a major emerging topic in the adult justice context (Bergin et al., 2021; Petersen, 2019; Rabinowitz, 2021).

Racial Disparities in Pre-Adjudicatory Detention

With respect to potential racial disparities in any such consequences, prior research has shown that a juvenile’s race plays a significant role in the various outcomes that youth may receive, with the majority of these racial effects existing in front-end court proceedings (e.g., intake, detention, petition), and with some variation based on which stage of the juvenile court process is examined (Lockwood, Peck, Wolff, & Baglivio, 2021; Peck et al, 2016; Zane, Mears, & Welsh, 2020). Generally, youth of color, and specifically Black youth, often experience disadvantaged court outcomes compared to their similarly situated White counterparts (Fader, Kurlychek, & Morgan, 2014; Guevara, Herz, & Spohn, 2006; Peck & Jennings, 2016). Black youth are more likely to be detained, adjudicated as delinquent, and sentenced to placement outside the home (Harms, 2003; Leiber & Johnson, 2008; Lowery & Smith, 2020), with detention rates 40% to 70% higher than their White counterparts (Puzzanchera & Adams, 2012).

This disproportionate minority contact in juvenile intake and arrest could be explained by racial threat theory, according to which criminal justice system formal social control apparatuses are used more harshly when decision-makers perceive racialized threats to their perceived power and control (King & Wheelock, 2007; Smith, 2020; Updegrove, Cooper, Orrick & Piquero, 2020). This perspective has at least partial empirical support in the juvenile justice context (Armstrong & Rodrigues, 2005; Leiber & Fox, 2005; Leiber, Peck, & Rodriguez, 2016; Thomas, Moak, & Walker, 2013). For example, in a study in South Carolina, Lowery, Burrow, and Kaminsky (2018) found that higher Black population composition was associated with harsh dispositions overall and for Black youth, in particular. However, researchers like Andersen and Ouellette (2018) have found the opposite, that increasing proportion of minorities are associated with more lenient punishments, particularly once the size of the minority population reaches a critical threshold.

A countervailing tendency identified in the juvenile justice literature is that of a “correction effect,” where Black youth are often treated more leniently at adjudication than their White counterparts (Peck & Jennings, 2016; Rodriguez, 2010; Secret & Johnson, 1997). Prior researchers have attributed this “correction effect” to judges motivated to ameliorate earlier-stage policing and juvenile justice decisions (especially at arrest) that they perceive as having been distorted by racial/ethnic disparities (Bishop & Frazier, 2010). Since the mechanisms of racial threat and the correction effect work in opposite directions, it is unclear how the association between juvenile pre-adjudicatory detention and front-end outcomes might vary by race/ethnicity.

No prior studies have yet examined whether pre-adjudicatory detention is associated with front-end disposition or adjudicative decisions among first time offenders, and, importantly, whether race/ethnicity moderates that relationship. For minority youth who have been shown to experience a heightened prevalence of pre-adjudicatory detention (Rodriguez, 2010), the impact of such detention prior to case disposition could be significant. Any minority overrepresentation that occurs at early court decision-making stages may result in a cumulative disadvantage evidenced by harsher court outcomes at later stages (e.g., judicial disposition) for minority youth compared to white youth. In this way, pre-adjudicatory detention may be related, either directly or indirectly, to disproportionate minority contact or the overrepresentation of minority youth within the juvenile justice system (Piquero, 2008). Therefore, the inclusion of race and ethnicity is essential in gathering a more holistic picture of the role that adolescent and offense characteristics play in juvenile court outcomes.

CURRENT STUDY

Based on previous literature discussing the prevalence of pre-adjudicatory detention in juvenile justice settings (Walker & Herting, 2020), and the presence of racial/ethnic disparities across both the juvenile and criminal justice systems (Ulmer, 2012; Wooldredge et al., 2015), the current study examines two general research questions. The first research question examines if pre-adjudicatory detention is related to front-end case juvenile case processing decisions. Stated differently, is pre-adjudicatory detention significantly associated with the probability of dismissal, the probability of adjudication, and the level of the disposition received (e.g., diversion, probation, or residential placement)? The second research question is contingent upon the first and focuses on the race/ethnicity of the youth. Specifically, does race/ethnicity moderate the relationship between pre-adjudicatory detention and front-end processing decisions? We hypothesize that pre-adjudicatory detention will be significantly related to being adjudicated delinquent (as opposed to dismissal) as well as to deeper-end placement decisions (probation or residential placement, as opposed to diversion). We expect the association between pre-adjudicatory detention and front-end processing decisions to vary by race, with Black and (to a lesser extent) Hispanic youth experiencing less favorable outcomes than their White counterparts.

DATA & METHODS

Sample

The current study leverages Florida Department of Juvenile Justice (FDJJ) data encompassing all first-time delinquency referrals (equivalent to an adult arrest) from July 1, 2019 to December 31, 2020. Of note, the most serious charge of each youth’s first referral was used as the focal first-time offense. As race/ethnicity is central to the current study’s focus, only youth classified as Black, Hispanic, and White were retained.3 The sample is inclusive of all Black, Hispanic, and White youth referred for the first time during the 18-month period who were administered the FDJJ risk/need assessment, the Community Assessment Tool (CAT).4 The current study used the CAT assessment closest to the disposition date of the first referral for each youth. The final sample includes 8,416 youth who had their first referral and formal processing into the juvenile justice system between July 1, 2019 and December 31, 2020.

The study purposively included only youth for whom the referral was their first. This strategy provides the “cleanest” approach to examining the effects of pre-adjudication detention placement on court outcomes and whether race/ethnicity moderates any such effect. Including youth with prior offending would necessitate both controlling for not simply the number and type of offenses, dispositions, and placements, but also for how well the adolescent performed in prior placements resulting from those prior adjudications (e.g., a prior diversion program, probation supervision, etc.). This would need to include both formal measures (e.g., violations of probation) and informal measures (e.g., failed drug test, missed curfew, juvenile brought back before the court, and other factors that may not have resulted in formal violations). Court actors are well aware of these prior factors, and, unfortunately, available data does not provide the nuanced, often qualitative, information required for sufficient level of statistical control of factors that certainly could have implications for court decisions and outcomes. For this reason, we argue the strategy to focus on first-time offenders in this initial effort to investigate the moderating effects of race/ethnicity on pre-adjudication detention’s effects on case outcomes is the most justified approach.

Measures

All measures are garnered from the FDJJ information system, which is inclusive of complete demographic, offense, placement, and risk/need assessment (CAT) information. The dependent measures (case dismissal, adjudication, and disposition indication), demographic indicators, and referral/offense measures were extracted directly from the information system. The CAT assessment administered closest to the youth’s disposition date was used to gather additional independent measures (described below). The CAT includes a pre-screen and a full assessment, which provide identical overall risk-to-reoffend classifications (low, moderate, moderate-high, or high-risk); with the full assessment additionally providing risk and protective scores for each domain. All pre-screen items appear identically in the full assessment. The current study uses either tool, depending on which was administered closest to the youth’s disposition date, as all measures used are available in both versions of the tool.

Dependent Variables

Multiple stages of juvenile court outcomes were examined, including case dismissal (= 1, with 34.6% of cases dismissed), adjudication (= 0 for not adjudicated, = 1 for adjudication/adjudication withheld; 30.9% adjudicated/adjudication withheld), and restrictiveness of the disposition for those adjudicated/adjudication withheld (0 = diversion, 1 = probation supervision/community-based placement or a residential commitment).5 Importantly, in Florida, adjudication/adjudication withheld and dismissal are not entirely mutually exclusive, as each juvenile circuit court employs unique processes and procedures wherein some circuits have adjudication withheld statuses that are administratively equivalent to dismissals. Also of note, community-based placements (e.g., probation supervision), were combined with residential placements to compare diversion to all other “deeper-end” disposition decisions. As the sample was purposively inclusive only of those youth who were first referred during the study period, only 3.1% of youth received a residential placement, necessitating combining these youth with the larger probation subgroup (37.1% of the sample), resulting in a total of 59.8% the youth analyzed receiving diversion and 40.2% more restrictive dispositions.

Focal Independent Measure: Pre-adjudication detention

The focal independent measure was whether the youth was held in a juvenile detention center at any point prior to the adjudication hearing. As shown (Table 1), 13.1% of the sample was detained prior to his/her adjudication date. Whether a youth is detained post-arrest in Florida is dependent upon his/her scoring on an automated detention risk assessment instrument (DRAI). The only youth detained at their first arrest, based on DRAI protocols, are capital, life or first-degree felonies punishable by life, violent first- or second-degree felonies, vehicular homicide, or offenses involving the use or possession of a firearm. However, youth referred for the first time (and not detained at that referral) may be referred again (or multiple times) for new offenses prior to the court hearing to determine adjudication and disposition for that first referral. These cases (additional referrals) are what results in the 13.1% detention rate for our first-time offending sample (measures capturing subsequent referrals and seriousness of those referrals are controlled for; described below).

Independent Variables

Offending prior to adjudication

Several legal system and offense-specific measures were included, as such measures strongly impact juvenile court outcomes (Baglivio et al., 2014; Piquero, Farrington, & Blumstein, 2003). Importantly, as discussed above, youth may be referred multiple times prior to a court hearing and disposition for their first offense. As such, we control for legal variables subsequent to the first referral, but prior to the disposition hearing for that first referral. The category of the youth’s most serious offense before first offense disposition is included as either a society (e.g., vandalism, trespassing, obstruction of justice), drug (e.g., possession, sale or manufacturing of a controlled substance), property (e.g., burglary, larceny, auto theft, or fraud ), violent (e.g., murder/manslaughter, attempted murder/manslaughter, sexual battery, kidnapping, other felony sexual offenses, armed robbery, and aggravated assault) or “other” (e.g., other felony of misdemeanor offenses ) offense category. Dichotomous indicators for whether the youth had committed a sexual offense (violent or non-violent6, = 1, 3.9%) or weapon offense (= 1, 5.4%) were included as these offenses have important ramifications for the use of pre-adjudicatory detention. Additionally, the most seriousness adjudicated charge within referrals prior to case disposition was classified as a misdemeanor or administrative charge (= 0, 40.8%) or felony (= 1, 59.2%). The total number of charges prior to disposition was also included (m = 3.03, sd = 5.14) as was the number of subsequent referrals (m = 0.26, sd = 0.88). Finally, all regression models presented below account for the number of days between first referral and disposition (m = 68.7, sd = 57.3), as well as the use of electronic monitoring during the pre-adjudicatory period (=1, 5.7%).

Demographic Controls

Demographic measures include age, sex, and race/ethnicity. Specifically, age is measured continuously as the age at the time of first arrest, with sample youth nearly 15 at their first referral on average (m = 14.91), ranging from age seven to 18. A dichotomous indicator of youth sex (male =1) was included, with 71.2% of the sample being male. Race and ethnicity were included, based on a youth’s self-identified racial/ethnic background. In keeping with FDJJ protocol, Hispanic ethnicity supersedes race such that Hispanic youth may be Black or White, while Black and White youth are all non-Hispanic. As shown, 44.5% of the sample identified as White non-Hispanic, followed by Black non-Hispanic (37.2%), and Hispanic (18.3%). Dummy variables were constructed for Black and Hispanic youth, while White youth served as the reference category. Finally, the youth’s overall risk-to-reoffend, as captured by the CAT assessment closest to disposition date (therefore inclusive of the first offense and new offending) is included as low, moderate or mod-high to high risk (coded 1-3, with higher values indicating a higher risk to reoffend). As the sample was composed of first-time offenders (only 15.2% of whom had additional referrals prior to court hearing for first offense adjudication and disposition), there were relatively few youth who were designated high risk, necessitating the combination of the moderate-high and high-risk youth into a single category.

As important regional differences may exist, dichotomous indicators for whether the youth was from Northwest, Northeast, Central, or South Florida were included (with the Northwest region serving as the reference group). Finally, in an attempt to account for repercussions related to the COVID-19 pandemic, an indicator of whether the offense occurred after the onset of the pandemic was included (= 1 if the offense occurred on or after March 12, 2020, with 35.2% of the sample’s first offense occurring during the pandemic).7 Descriptive statistics for all measures included in the analyses presented can be seen in Table 1.

Analytic Strategy

To assess the association between juvenile pre-adjudicatory detention and juvenile justice outcomes across race/ethnicity, the analyses included several distinct steps. To answer the first research question (i.e., is pre-adjudicatory detention associated with unfavorable juvenile court outcomes?), a series of logistic regression analyses were performed to estimate the association present between pre-adjudicatory detention, race/ethnicity, and juvenile court outcomes including adjudication, dismissal, and placement outcomes. As each of these outcomes was operationalized as a dichotomous variable (dismissal = 1, adjudicated/adjudication withheld = 1, probation/residential placement = 1), logistic regression represents an appropriate modeling strategy. To address the second research question (i.e., does a juvenile’s race/ethnicity moderate the relationship between the presence of pre-adjudicatory detention and juvenile court outcomes), two interaction terms were introduced into each model to estimate the racial/ethnic-specific effect of pre-adjudicatory detention on all outcomes of interest (resulting in a total of six (6) models estimated).

Importantly, recent methodological advances suggest that caution is necessary when interpreting the significance of interaction terms within non-linear regression models (Long & Mustillo, 2021). Following recent recommendations to the field (Mustillo et al., 2018; Mize, 2019), we evaluated the differences in the relationships assessed using adjusted predictions resulting from the multivariable models, rather than statistical significance of the coefficient of the product term alone. More specifically, in order to probe the moderating effect of race/ethnicity on the association between pre-adjudicatory detention and the focal case outcomes (e.g., dismissal, adjudication, probation/placement), we examined the “second differences” (i.e., second derivatives) of the marginal effects of the continuous variable (e.g., time detained prior to case disposition) between the three groups being explored (White, Black and Hispanic youth; Long & Mustillo, 2018; Mize, 2019). Results of these analyses are described below, followed by a discussion of their implications for both juvenile justice policy and future research in the area of pre-adjudicatory detention and juvenile case outcomes.

Results

Table 2 presents the results of a total six logistic regression models. There are two models shown for each of the outcomes explored. The first, third and fifth models assess the average association between pre-adjudicatory detention and each outcome explored, while the second model in each pair examine the potential for this association to vary across race/ethnicity. For ease of interpretation, logistic regression coefficients are shown for models 2, 4 and 6, while odds ratios are presented in the first model for each outcome. We discuss the results of each pair of models below in a subsection devoted to each outcome being evaluated.

Dismissal

The results shown in model 1 suggest that pre-adjudicatory detention is associated with a lower probability of dismissal (OR = .979, CI .964 - .995). Youth who had a moderate risk to reoffend as determined by the CAT risk assessment were also less likely to be dismissed (OR = .760, CI .589 - .982) compared to those who were categorized as low-risk. Compared to youth who were charged with a property offense, those charged with drug offenses, violent offenses, offenses against society, and other offenses were all more likely to be dismissed. Youth who were referred on a weapons charge (OR = .623, CI .525 - .740) were significantly less likely to be dismissed, as were those charged with more serious (e.g., felony) offenses (OR = .689, CI .556 - .853). There were also some regional differences observed, with the Northwest Region (the reference group) evidencing the lowest likelihood of dismissal as compared to the other three regions, as indicated by odds ratios greater than 1.0. Of note, there were significant differences in the probability of dismissal after the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic (OR = .635, CI .503 - .800).

Model 2 includes the results of a model that includes two interaction terms to assess the differences in the association between pre-adjudicatory detention and dismissal among White, Black and Hispanic youth. Here the coefficient of pre-adjudicatory detention represents the association among White youth (the reference group). Results suggest that consistent with model 1 pre-adjudicatory detention is negatively associated with the probability of dismissal among White youth. The results shown in Model 2 of Table 2 also suggest the association between pre-adjudicatory detention and dismissal is unlikely to vary significantly between White and Hispanic youth, as the interaction term was not significant. However, the significant coefficient for the Black interaction term suggests that while pre-adjudicatory detention is negatively associated with the probability of dismissal among White youth, this association is substantively weaker (less negative) among Black youth.

An assessment of marginal effects helps to demonstrate this effect. Among White youth, a one standard deviation increase in time detained pre-adjudication (from the mean to one standard deviation above the mean) was associated with a 12.2% decrease in the probability of dismissal, while the same increase in the time detained was associated with only a 2.0% decrease among Black youth and 13.4% decrease among Hispanic youth. The second difference, or difference in this effect between White and Black youth (12.2- 2.0 = 10.2%) was statistically significant (p < .01), as was the difference between Black and Hispanic youth (11.5%). The difference between White and Hispanic youth (1.3%), however, was not statistically significant (p > .05) suggesting the association between pre-adjudicatory detention and dismissal was equivalent among these groups. These effects are displayed graphically in Figure 1, where there is a negative association between pre-adjudicatory detention and the predicted probability of dismissal among Hispanic and White youth, but not among Black youth.

Figure 1:

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Adjudication

The third and fourth models of Table 2 assess the association between each of our independent measures and the likelihood of adjudication (e.g., equivalent to conviction for adults). Results shown in model 3 suggest that pre-adjudicatory detention is associated with an increased probability of adjudication among this sample of youth (OR = 1.057, CI 1.036 – 1.078). Male youth (OR = 1.190, CI 1.021 – 1.387) and older youth (OR = 1.128, CI 1.067 - 1.193) were also more likely to be adjudicated than their female and younger counterparts. Youth facing felony charges were significantly more likely to be adjudicated, while there were no differences observed across offense types. There were two exceptions, however, youth charged with sex-related offenses were less likely to be adjudicated (OR = .653, CI .457 - .932), while those with weapons charges were more likely to be adjudicated (OR = 1.762, CI 1.339 – 2.319). Youth who were placed on electronic monitoring prior to the disposition of their case were also more likely to be adjudicated (OR = 1.861, CI 1.139 – 3.039). Finally, there were no significant differences in the probability of adjudication across the regions in the state or during the period which the COVID-19 pandemic was underway.

Model 4 includes the interactions terms and results suggest while the association between pre-adjudicatory detention and adjudication is significant and positive among White youth, this association is significantly weaker (e.g., less positive) among Black youth, while it is roughly equivalent among Hispanic youth. Again, a look at the marginal effects using adjusted predicted probabilities helps to demonstrate differences in the association between pre-adjudicatory detention and adjudication across racial and ethnic groups. Among White youth, a one standard deviation increase from the mean to one standard deviation above the mean in the time detained was associated with a 26.1% increase in the probability of adjudication, while the same increase in the detention was associated with an 11.2% increase among Black youth and 25.9% increase among Hispanic youth. The second difference between White and Black youth (26.1-11.2 = 14.9%) was statistically significant (p < .01), while the difference between White and Hispanic youth was not (26.1-25.9=.002; p > .05). Figure 2 displays these associations using predicted probabilities, holding all other measures at their means.

Figure 2:

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Disposition

The final set of models shown in Table 2 explores the association between pre-adjudicatory detention and the probability of being placed on probation or in a residential facility following disposition. Results shown in model 5 suggest that youth who were detained pre-adjudication were significantly more likely to be receive a disposition which included probation or residential placement (OR = 1.090, CI 1.053 – 1.128). There were no differences observed among youth of different races, however males were more likely than females to receive a more restrictive disposition (OR = 1.390, CI 1.130 – 1.709) as were older youth (OR = 1.167, CI 1.089 – 1.251). Youth who were charged with a felony offense were just over twice as likely receive a restrictive placement (OR = 2.029, CI 1.499 – 2.747). There were also some significant differences across offense types. Youth who committed a violent or weapons offense were more likely to be placed on probation or face residential commitment than those youth charged with property offenses, while youth charged with drug offenses were less likely to face restrictions following disposition. Youth who had subsequent charges prior disposition (OR = 1.275, CI 1.078 – 1.508) or were placed on electronic supervision (OR = 1.965, CI 1.094 – 3.235) were more likely to be disposed to a restrictive placement. Finally, there was evidence that cases disposed of during the COVID-19 pandemic were less likely to result in probation and/or residential placements (OR = .684, CI .529 – .885).

The results shown in the final model Table 2 suggest the association between pre-adjudicatory detention and the restrictiveness of disposition received is unlikely to vary significantly between White, Black, and Hispanic youth, as neither of the interaction terms were significantly different from zero. Results from the ancillary analyses that used the predicted probability of disposition to probation of residential placement to compute the racial/ethnic-specific marginal effects confirm the association between pre-adjudicatory detention and the likelihood of being placed on probation or in a residential facility is not moderated by a youth’s race or ethnicity. These equivalent associations are displayed graphically in Figure 3, where there is a positive association between pre-adjudicatory detention and the predicted probability of probation or residential placement among White, Black and Hispanic youth.

Figure 3:

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Discussion

The current study examined whether pre-adjudicatory detention is associated with the probability of dismissal, adjudication, or the level of the disposition received (diversion, probation, or residential placement), and, secondly, whether race/ethnicity moderates any relationship between pre-adjudicatory detention and these front-end processing decisions. We selected a sample of juveniles for whom a referral for delinquency (equivalent to an adult arrest) within our study period was their first, thereby eliminating the need to control for (often more qualitative) factors such as how a youth performed during any prior juvenile justice placement. However, a youth may not be detained immediately after first referral or detained for a short period of time until he/she sees a judge (similar to an individual’s “first appearance” in adult court) and released before his/her adjudicatory hearing. Some of those youth will commit additional offenses within the community before that initial adjudicatory hearing and may or may not be detained for those subsequent offenses. As such, we controlled not only for immediate detention, but for any and all detention placements, composing a measure of total days detained prior to each youth’s first ever adjudicatory hearing. We hypothesized that greater total days of pre-adjudicatory detention would be significantly related to the likelihood of case dismissal, being adjudicated delinquent, as well as to deeper-end disposition decisions (probation or residential placement, as opposed to diversion). These hypotheses were based on the notion that detained youth have committed more violent and/or egregious offenses, deemed a greater threat to public safety, or seen as more blameworthy (e.g., Rodriguez, 2010). Further, we hypothesized that race/ethnicity may moderate any effects of pre-adjudication detention total days on the juvenile court outcomes examined (dismissal, adjudication, more restrictive dispositions), based on both prior nuanced racial threat and “correction effect” study findings (e.g., Andersen & Oullette, 2018; Leiber et al., 2016; Lowery et al., 2018; Peck & Jennings, 2016; Rodriguez, 2010; Secret & Johnson, 1997) as well as oft-demonstrated juvenile justice system racial/ethnic disparities (e.g., Sickmund et al., 2021).

Several policy-relevant findings emerged. First, pre-adjudicatory detention was related to lower odds of dismissal while increasing the likelihood of adjudication and of dispositions for more deeper juvenile justice placements (probation or residential placement over diversion programs), as hypothesized. These relationships hold even with controls for demographic indicators (sex, race/ethnicity, age at the first arrest), seriousness of the initial offense and all offenses charged prior to the first adjudicatory hearing, total number of charges prior to initial adjudicatory hearing, risk level on a validated risk/need assessment, region of the state, and types of offenses, raising our confidence that the number of days detained prior to a youth’s first adjudicatory hearing is a relevant factor in juvenile court outcomes and disposition restrictiveness level.

Secondly, with respect to policy-relevant findings, a young person’s race/ethnicity moderates the relationship between number of days detained pre-adjudication and case dismissal and whether the young person will be adjudicated, but not whether he/she will receive a harsher or more restrictive disposition. Specifically, Black youth with more extensive total days detained pre-adjudication have statistically similar likelihood of dismissal as those Black youth with no or little time detained. For example, White youth who were detained one standard deviation above the mean (about 14 total days) saw an approximate 12% decrease in the probability of dismissal, and Hispanic youth had a 13% decreased likelihood. In turn, the same increase in the time detained for Black youth was associated with only a 2% decrease in case dismissal. The relationship between detention and dismissal being nearly constant for Black youth suggests there is no significant relationship between the length of their detention and the strength of their case. This finding suggests Black youth seem to be getting detained at least in part for reasons other than the evidence against them8. Additionally, Black youth with more extensive total days detained pre-adjudication were less likely to be adjudicated than similarly situated Hispanic and White youth. These two findings correspond with notions of racial threat, as well as the “correction effect” uncovered in prior research (e.g., Lockwood et al., 2021).

Understanding how extralegal factors like race could come into play requires some detailed context about the detention decision-making process. In Florida, all judicial and administrative determinations regarding the detention of youth who have been taken into custody are governed by F.S. 985.24 (1) (2014), which provides that detention must be based upon a set of five guiding criteria9. Initially, if FDJJ staff determine detention is warranted (F.S. 985.25 (1), 2014), youth who have been taken into custody may be detained for up to 24 hours prior to appearing before a judge. It is essential to understand that in these initial detention determinations, the FDJJ uses an automated detention risk assessment instrument (DRAI). This automated tool informs the user (a juvenile probation officer) whether a given youth should be detained at referral (based strictly on official offense details, prior abscond/escape, prior failures to appear, prior probation violation, and the juvenile’s age) (F.S. 985.245 (2) (b), 2014; 985.25 (1) (b), 2014; T.M. v. State, 227 So. 3d 745-746, 2017). Importantly, overriding the DRAI and detaining a young person recommended for release by the automated tool’s result is strictly limited by statute (F.S. 985.24 (1), 2014; F.S. 985.25 (1), 2014) to six criteria: 1) the youth is wanted in another jurisdiction for a felony offense, 2) the youth requests in writing through legal counsel to be detained for protection of imminent physical threat, 3) the youth is alleged to have committed a domestic violence offense and the victim needs to be protected (i.e., victim is in the youth’s home), or a domestic violence respite home setting is not available for the youth, 4) the youth meets criteria for Florida’s Prolific Juvenile Offender statute (F.S. 985.225(1)(f) (related to accumulating charges quickly, which we control for using total charges and seriousness of charges in our models), 5) the youth is currently on probation supervision for a prior detention-scoring offense, or 6) there are judicial orders present for placement (placement is based on court order instructions). This level of automation and limited overrides is designed to limit the racial/ethnic bias of the decision to detain at arrest (though differences in law enforcement charging practices across race/ethnicity are certainly relevant).

Importantly however, the DRAI is used by FDJJ in decisions to detain at the time of referral (prior to seeing a judge), while juvenile judges may use other factors in addition to the DRAI in subsequent detention decisions. Of note, even if the DRAI indicates the youth is to be released, the youth may only be released to a parent, guardian, or “responsible adult” (where a criminal background check can be completed on the “responsible adult”). This release requirement could be a hindrance in the event of parents working who cannot leave their shift to pick up the youth, those without transportation, or those with extended kin or family support networks who may have criminal records. While the policies are aimed at limiting eligible individuals to minimize the likelihood of the youth being released to potential gang or criminal associates, human traffickers, or friends, the potential for socioeconomically disadvantaged families to have a harder time picking the youth up is likely to exist, which may result in economic and/or racial disparities in youth having to spend at least one night in secure detention. With respect to policy implications, there may exist a timeframe (empirically) wherein a prior conviction of a “responsible adult” could be determined to deem such a person ineligible (i.e., based on years since the last conviction, type of offense, etc.) as well as the need for additional resources designed to mitigate the compounding socioeconomic effects of criminal justice involvement.

By statute, all detained youth then appear before the juvenile court within 24 hours of being taken into custody, at which time the juvenile judge determines whether there is probable cause supporting the charged offense(s) and whether continued detention is warranted (again similar to the bail decision made at first appearance within the adult system) (F.S. 985.255 (1), (3) (a), 2014; F.S. 985.26 (1), 2014). Generally, there is a 21-day limit to secure detention, though youth charged with serious offenses can be held up to 30 days (F.S. 985.26 (1), 2014). Crucially, these detention hearings are not governed exclusively by the DRAI (while the DRAI can be considered) and are subject to judicial discretion. That judicial discretion is not boundless, however, since F.S. 985.255 (1) (2014) limits the criteria used by judges when deciding whether to continue detention. If the judge orders a placement more restrictive than indicated by the results of the DRAI, the court must state, in writing, clear and convincing reasons for such placement (F.S. 985.25 (3) (b), 2014), which is a decision-making turning point where some extra-legal factors could come into play in these pre-adjudicatory detention hearings. For example, youth charged with sexual offenses might get detained longer regardless of objective (scored) risk because a judge may perceive them as more dangerous and therefore more likely to warrant pre-adjudicatory detention. Additionally, and related to the discussion above, the extent to which a judge/court actors may have knowledge of the ability of the parent(s) to supervise the youth if released may be relevant extra-legal factors considered that the current data could not capture. A single parent working multiple jobs, parents with known extensive criminal histories with recent offending, suspected of operating a criminal enterprise out of the household, or household members as co-defendants are all potential factors we argue may influence decisions to release prior to an adjudicatory hearing.

Our finding that Black youth evidence no significant drop in the probability of having their cases dismissed after spending a great number of days in detention may indicate that Black youth are being detained even when their charges/offenses are not as serious or violent, or the cases/evidence is not as strong against them. This finding is unlikely to be driven by detention decisions at arrest, which are determined by the DRAI. The observed disparity likely originates at detention hearings (within 24 hours after arrest), driven primarily by court actors. Again, this finding was in spite of controlling for extensive offense-related legal factors. Another way to look at this is that Black youth are no more or less likely to have their cases dismissed regardless of how long they were detained prior to their first adjudicatory hearing. This means, in contrast to White and Hispanic youth for whom detention seems to imply a level of seriousness and/or “guilt”, Black youth have lower prevalence of dismissal when not detained or detained for few days, but higher dismissal than similarly situated peers at more extensive days detained. The practical implication of this finding is that Black youth being detained pre-adjudication is far less related to whether evidence of the youth’s delinquency is present or not, seeming to imply Black youth are being deemed more blameworthy or dangerous, or held on charges or assumptions that more often play out as bogus or perhaps overcharged (by law enforcement and/or state attorneys) beyond the underlying factual circumstances of the event.

The same pattern, though to a lesser degree (while still statistically significant) is found in whether a youth was adjudicated or not. While Hispanic and White youth detained for a greater number of days pre-adjudication were more likely to be adjudicated delinquent, the relationship between detention and delinquent adjudication was significantly weaker for Black youth. Recall from Figure 2 that an increase from the mean number of days detained to one standard deviation above the mean was associated with a 26% increase in the probability of adjudication for White youth and Hispanic youth, while the same increase in the detention led to only a 11.2% increase among Black youth. This finding, similar to the dismissal findings, suggests that being detained pre-adjudication has a different practical meaning among Black youth than it does for White and Hispanic youth with respect to actually being adjudicated (i.e., found “guilty” of the charged offense(s)).

The other critical finding is one of a “correction effect” from the disparities seen in dismissal and adjudication analyses that are not apparent in placement outcomes. Once only those youth who are adjudicated or whose adjudication is withheld are considered, the restrictiveness of the disposition imposed is statistically equivalent across race/ethnicity. This demonstrates that once we focus on only those youth who are determined actually “guilty” of the offense(s) they are charged with (adjudicated/adjudication withheld), the system corrects, and we find no significant evidence of racial/ethnic disparity in the placements youth receive. Once the system “weeds out” those youth who shouldn’t be there (dismissed, not adjudicated), the relationship between time spent detained and the restrictiveness of the placement is consistent across White, Black and Hispanic youth. Of note, we remain cognizant that the sample size of those youth being placed in residential commitment facilities prohibited analysis by itself and was combined with probation supervision. Nonetheless, the finding that Black youth who were detained were no less (statistically) likely to receive dispositions to diversion programs is consistent with Florida decision-makers intentionally correcting racial disparities by this stage of case processing. Further, the finding that the region of the state was not a significant predictor of disposition placement suggests that regional differences are not apparent in restrictiveness of dispositions across the State (accounting for other factors considered).

Care should be taken in generalizing the current study findings. Firstly, the sample was composed of youth for whom the focal offense was their first formal foray into the juvenile justice system. Unfortunately, many youth commit subsequent offenses prior to the adjudicatory hearing for their first-ever offense and may be detained both for that initial offense or the subsequent ones, necessitating consideration of all pre-adjudication detention. While our approach alleviates the need to consider performance during prior juvenile justice placements (as first-time offenders do not have any), the reality of subsequent offending prior to the first offense adjudicatory hearing certainly creates a nuance that is not as “clean” as we would have preferred.

Moreover, our administrative data do not include measures of prior informal system contact, so it is possible that, even in our sample of first-time delinquency referrals, the police, probation officers, or members of the courtroom workgroup could have already been familiar with some youth prior to their first formal referral. For example, some youth might have already been informally diverted by court actors or law enforcement, without being officially referred to the court. While available data allowed for including all official arrests (whether ultimately diverted, dismissed, or nolle prosequi), Florida has an extensive civil citation/prearrest diversion initiative, available in all 67 counties, that allows law enforcement to issue a civil citation in lieu of “arresting” a juvenile, which were not available in the study data. Youth receiving a citation as an alternative to arrest may participate in services which include family counseling, drug screening, substance abuse treatment, or mental health treatment. Additional sanctions or services are considered at the local level an may include letters of apology to the victim, restitution, school progress monitoring, or prevocational skill training. The purpose is to keep youth from having an official juvenile record. In Fiscal Year 2020-21 there were 5,546 civil citations/alternatives to arrest issued, representing 60% of such instances in which a youth was eligible/met criteria for such an alternative (FDJJ, 2022a), illustrating the extent of discretion at this alternative to arrest to level as well. This kind of informal contact could make a difference in outcomes like detention likelihood or length (if, for example, court actors already knew something about the availability of suitable guardians), or even likelihood of adjudication and length of punishment (if, for example, court actors were already familiar with some relevant behavioral factors). Additionally, many youth may have prior (or current) child welfare system involvement, which may be known by court actors. Most relevant to our findings, it is possible that some of the racial disparities we identified could be explained at least in part by these potential unmeasured factors, rather than racial threat or a correction effect. This is a limitation that cannot be addressed with the data available in this study. A qualitative study of court actor decision-making could better explore how relevant any such prior informal contact might be to understanding the racial disparities identified in this paper.

Additionally, we have often seen findings in the literature surrounding Florida’s Hispanic youth that are contradictory to that of Hispanic/Latino youth in other states (e.g., Lockwood et al., 2021; Wolff, Baglivio, & Piquero, 2017). Hispanic youth are actually underrepresented in the juvenile justice system in Florida, relative to their percentage of all youth in the State (FDJJ, 2022b), so we must take caution in extrapolating these Florida-specific findings to other locations. In addition, in this study we cannot control for the quality of evidence present at the time of arrest, which is certainly related to the likelihood of dismissal or adjudication. Quality of evidence is a potentially confounding factor in the dismissal and adjudication patterns. Similarly, we do not know the exact reason for the length of detention of a youth, so it is possible that there are compelling justifications omitted that could explain some of the disparities identified in the study. Finally, we do not have a dynamic picture of these youths’ lives during the period between first arrest and adjudication. It is likely that some of these youths are in crisis of some kind, especially if they experience multiple referrals. Such context could explain some detention decisions (for example, some judges might detain some youth for non-punitive reasons). Further studies in this emerging research area could explore these nuances, such as case studies of juvenile justice system actors to explain the processes and mechanisms driving our results.

Conclusion

The current study was designed to examine the front-end case processing consequences of juvenile pre-adjudicatory detention and whether those consequences might differ by youths’ race. Prior research has extensively studied the downstream consequences of adult pretrial detention, but only scarcely examined the consequences in the juvenile justice system. There has been a need to extend these adult pretrial justice research questions to the juvenile context – for populations as sensitive as the young people in our study, who were referred for the very first time, each early step in the process can be a particularly momentous turning point in their life course, and even modest initial disparities can compound as youths make their way through the system. We find that pre-adjudicatory detention in the juvenile justice system has significant deleterious downstream effects on front-end case processing decisions, and that the initial downstream effects are significantly moderated by race for detained Black youth (consistent with racial threat theories), but that the effect of pre-adjudicatory detention on final case dispositions is not moderated by race (consistent with judicial correction theories). Further research should be conducted on the relationships between pre-adjudicatory detention and these and other case processing outcomes to examine whether these patterns hold in other contexts. Future studies could also develop and test interventions and policies designed to mitigate the potentially impactful racial disparities identified in this study.


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