Semester of Graduation

Summer 2018


Master of Arts (MA)



Document Type



Previous research has indicated that adolescents who are formally processed by the juvenile justice system are at a higher risk of worse outcomes, most notably increased risk for subsequent offending and arrests. However, it is unclear whether this effect is due to the processing decision and subsequent involvement with the justice system or whether it is due to characteristics of the adolescents who are formally processed. Further, it is unclear whether formal processing increases the risk for future offending in all adolescents or whether its effects are more pronounced for certain adolescents. In the current study, we tested the predictions that formal processing upon first arrest would increase the risk for offending and rearrest and that this effect would remain even after accounting for key demographic and background variables. Further, we predicted that the adolescents’ level of CU traits would moderate this effect such that formal processing would only increase the risk of offending and rearrest among adolescents who had low CU traits. First-time male juvenile offenders (N = 1,216; M age = 15.12, SD = 1.29) across three geographically distinct sites were assessed at 6-month intervals for 36 months after their initial arrest. Inclusion was based on the adolescent’s offense characteristics, such that the offense resulted in significant discretion to either formally process the youth or divert the youth from the system. As predicted, formal processing increased risk of self-reported offending and official records of rearrests across the follow-up period. Importantly, this effect remained significant for rearrests, even after controlling for key demographic and background characteristics, such as the child’s self-reported lifetime history of delinquency provided at the time of arrest, neighborhood disorder, intelligence, ethnicity, impulse control, peer delinquency, parental education, and parental monitoring. Further, self-reported CU traits assessed immediately following arrest moderated this effect, such that formal processing increased the risk of offending, but only in adolescents low on CU traits. This latter finding has important policy implications in suggesting that the effects of formal processing may have been underestimated in past research for children lower on CU traits.



Committee Chair

Frick, Paul J.