NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH
NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH

Juvenile Punishment, High School Graduation and Adult Crime: Evidence from Idiosyncratic Judge Harshness

Ozkan Eren, Naci Mocan

NBER Working Paper No. 23573
Issued in July 2017
NBER Program(s):CH, ED, HE, LE, LS, PE

This paper contributes to the debate on the impact of juvenile punishment on adult criminal recidivism and high school completion. We link the universe of case files of those who were convicted of a crime as a juvenile between 1996 and 2012 in a southern U.S. state to the public school administrative records and to adult criminal records. The detail of the data allows us to utilize information on the exact types of crimes committed, as well as the type and duration of punishment imposed, both as a juvenile and as an adult. We exploit random assignment of cases to judges and use idiosyncratic judge stringency in imprisonment to estimate the causal effect of incarceration on adult crime and on high school completion. Incarceration has a detrimental impact on high school completion for earlier cohorts, but it has no impact on later cohorts, arguably because of the school reform implemented in the state in the late 1990s. We find that incarceration as a juvenile has no impact on future violent crime, but it lowers the propensity to commit property crime. Juvenile incarceration increases the propensity of being convicted for a drug offense in adulthood, but this effect is largely driven by time spent in prison as a juvenile. Specifically, juvenile incarceration has no statistically significant impact on adult drug offenses if time spent in prison is less than the median, but longer incarceration increases adult drug conviction, arguably because longer prison stays intensify emotional stress, leading to drug use.

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Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w23573

 
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