While discussions abound about the utility of incarceration for adult offenders, the effect of juvenile incarceration on subsequent criminal trajectories is less well-explored. The primary research goal of this study was to explore the effects of juvenile incarceration on future recidivism using social and legal history data about adjudicated juvenile delinquents in New York City. Principally, the study compared the recidivism patterns of youth who received different types of dispositions (i.e., institutional placement versus probation and other community-based sentences) while controlling for social background and legal history variables, thus answering the most fundamental question about how juvenile incarceration affects subsequent reoffending, as well as assessing the utility of incarceration for youth with different personal, social, and legal profiles. The secondary research goal of this study was to explore family court decision-making and the nature of family court processing. Furthermore, this study attempted to identify factors associated with discretionary court actions such as dispositional recommendations made by juvenile probation officers, and judges' ultimate dispositional decisions.
Study subjects were chosen by examining Family Court calendars, in all five New York City boroughs for each day in April, May, and June of 2000, which identified every youth who received a disposition during this period. Research staff located case files for each subject in probation department file rooms in the five family courts by using personal and numeric identifiers taken from court calendars. Using a standardized data collection instrument that was developed by the research team, coded information was derived for 698 total cases by examining documents in each subject's probation case file.
Data coders were given extensive training by senior research staff at the Vera Institute in order to promote coding consistency. Principally, this training was made up of a series of meetings in which senior research staff tutored data coders on the intricacies of family court processing, and helped to resolve potentially confusing issues related to interpreting court documents. These meetings also served to familiarize data collectors with the form and function of the data collection instrument.
During the course of data collection, researchers implemented a number of additional measures to ensure coding accuracy and consistency. At least one senior staff member was present at all times. Coded data for each and every study subject was double-checked by senior staff. Immediately after a file was coded, the senior staff member would review responses with the data coder to identify potentially conflicting or ambiguous information, and appropriately adjust responses. Moreover, the research team held regular meetings with data coders during the data collection process to establish consistent coding guidelines and resolve issues related to data collection. Data coders were also rotated periodically throughout the five New York City borough family courts as a further guard against coding bias. Lastly, collected demographic and legal information (i.e., detention and placement data) was crosschecked in other state and local administrative databases.
Study subjects were chosen by examining Family Court calendars, in all five New York City boroughs for each day in April, May, and June of 2000, which identified every youth who received a disposition during this period. A total of 837 juvenile delinquents were identified, however case files were located for 736 subjects, yielding an overall location rate of 88 percent. A total of 38 cases in the dataset did not have a matching New York State Office of Children and Family Services (OCFS) incarceration record. As a result, the principal investigator was unable to determine accurately time spent incarcerated and in the community for these subjects, and chose to exclude them from multivariate analyses. The final dataset thus contains 698 total cases.
All juvenile delinquency cases processed in the New York City Family Court in April, May, and June of 2000.
Data were obtained from official case files in the New York City Family Court system. The main sources of information in the paper case files were:
- Probation Investigation and Recommendation (I and R) reports
- Probation Intake reports
- Mental Health reports (MHRs)
- Juvenile Intensive Supervision Program (JISP) assessments
- School records
- Court petitions
- New York Police Department (NYPD) arrest reports
Arrest and incarceration information was provided by the following city and state agencies:
- The New York City Criminal Justice Agency (CJA) provided data on subsequent arrests (juvenile and adult) in New York State.
- The New York State Office of Children and Family Services (OCFS), which oversees all state juvenile placement facilities, provided data on juvenile re-incarceration.
- The New York City Department of Juvenile Justice provided data on pre-trial detention in juvenile incarceral facilities.
- The New York City Department of Correction (DOC) provided data on adult incarcerations for those study subjects who "aged out" of the juvenile justice system during the follow-up period.
United States Bureau of the Census' American Factfinder available at Census 2000 Summary File 3.
In this dataset, each record is essentially a snapshot of a particular youth at the time of his or her disposition. Variables reflect the following characteristics of sampled youth:
- Demographic profile (e.g., sex, race, and ZIP code)
- Case processing variables (e.g. disposition date, length of disposition, type of current offense, and 6-, 12-, and 18-month dichotomous rearrest variables)
- Legal history (e.g., prior arrests and institutional placements)
- Characteristics of present and past family environments (e.g., guardians, abuse/neglect history, and nature of relationships between family members)
- School performance indicators (e.g., attendance, academic performance, conduct at school)
- Community and peer relationships (e.g., negative peers, gang involvement, and participation in organized activities)
- History of alcohol and drug use
- Mental health history
- History of victimization (e.g., bullying, sexual abuse, and property offenses against respondent)