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August 2016


The Center for Evidence-Based Crime Policy and WestEd’s Justice & Prevention Research Center will hold a Congressional Briefing on violence and violence prevention on September 27 at 10:00 a.m. in Washington, DC. Panelists include Nancy La Vigne, Chair of CJRA, and CJRA members, Laura Dugan, Cynthia Lum and Richard Rosenfeld. RSVP today!
While Congress remains in recess until after Labor Day, attention has been focused on the Presidential candidates policy positions on criminal justice. Both candidates shared their priorities in responses to a survey administered by the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP). Trump emphasized the need for mental health reform and strengthening federal support for state and local law enforcement, while Clinton provided details on a range of proposals to improve community-police relations, address the opioid epidemic and reduce gun violence. Neither candidate focused on the role of criminal justice research in their survey responses.
Each month, CJRA highlights a recent study published by one of our experts. This month, CJRA promoted Debtors' Prison for Kids? with research from Alex R. Piquero, Professor of Criminology at the University of Texas at Dallas.
What prompted your interest in studying this subject?
Our interest in this question was motivated by the fact that there has been very little empirical research focused on the extent to which costs (as measured by fines and fees) administered to juveniles who commit crimes were related to their likelihood of recidivism. Much of the work in this area had been previously conducted among adults who commit crimes. A focus on juveniles is important because they represent a very policy-relevant group given their critical location in the period of the life course where some criminal careers end while others continue.
What did you find?
There were two key findings from our work. First, financial penalties increased the likelihood of recidivism. Second, non-white (primarily African-American) youth were more likely to still owe costs and restitution upon case closing. When this is taken into consideration with their higher likelihood of recidivism, these results show that minority youth not only face problems in closing their financial debt but their higher likelihood of recidivism could entail additional costs on the justice system as well as to themselves and their families.
What impact do fines and fees have on families?
To the extent that youth in the juvenile justice system cannot pay their fines or fees, the brunt of those costs could be burdened by their families. Our results showed that there are certain dollar thresholds where the amount of costs and/or restitution imposed may be considered excessive at least when considering the ability of the youth to pay. For example, most youth who were not eligible for employment based on their age (12-13) could pay the full amount of restitution imposed upon case closing when it was $300 or less, but only half in this age group could pay all of their debt when the amount was greater than $300.
How do you hope your findings will be used? What's next?
We hope that our findings will be used to reconsider how costs are imposed on youth in the juvenile justice system. As well, perhaps the system should reconsider the structure and/or process by which it levies and collects assorted costs that are imposed on juveniles who commit crimes. It is important that our research is replicated in other jurisdictions as well as replicated across ethnicity, i.e., Hispanics, in order to better assess the generalizability of our results.
"Anyone can be held accountable for their behavior - even if you’re a popular sheriff." - Cara Rabe-Hemp, CJRA Expert
"There was no correlation between states with open carry laws and ones with restrictive laws." - Charles Wellford, CJRA Expert
"Communities who worry about an investigation of itself should welcome external oversight." - Justin Nix, CJRA Expert
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