Expert Commentary

Juvenile arrest and collateral educational damage in the transition to adulthood

2012 study from the University of Texas at Austin and Harvard University on the impact of an arrest on a teen's educational trajectory.

Arrested man (iStock)

The long-term monetary gains associated with college education have been well-established, but many would-be students never enroll.  Some decide to enter the workforce after completing high school; for others, trouble with the law could be the reason.

A 2012 study from the University of Texas at Austin and Harvard University published in Sociology of Education, “Juvenile Arrest and Collateral Educational Damage in the Transition to Adulthood,” looks at juvenile arrests and educational attainment rates, with a focus on high school and college attendance. The researchers utilized data on adolescents, families, neighborhoods and public schools in Chicago between 1995 and 2002. They focused on juvenile arrests rather than incarceration rates because “incarceration is the last step in criminal justice processing, such that individuals who make it to prison are for the most part so unlike the general population” as to not reflect the typical teen experience.

Key study findings include:

  • “Among Chicago adolescents otherwise equivalent on prearrest characteristics, 73% of those arrested later dropped out of high school compared with 51% of those not arrested, a substantial difference of 22%.”
  • More students with no criminal records who graduated from high school or obtained GED certification subsequently enrolled in four-year colleges (35%), nearly twice the amount of those with an arrest record (16%).
  • “Arrested youth … tend to have less self-control and persistence, and they are more commonly sensation seeking. In terms of problem behavior, those arrested tend to be more aggressive [and] are significantly more likely to engage in violent offending, property crime, and drug distribution than those not arrested.”
  • A student with an arrest record is less likely to be female, Mexican or white and is more likely to have a mother with a substance abuse problem; he or she is also more likely to associate with “deviant peers” and have failed a grade in school. Further, “even prior to contact with the criminal justice system, eventual arrestees showed signs of educational difficulties.”

The researchers emphasize the significant role that institutional responses to a student with a criminal record play in facilitating the decision to drop out of school or not pursue higher educational opportunities: “Reactions to an arrest record may also work to narrow options available to college seeking students, making community college the only viable option for higher education.”

Tags: youth, municipal, crime, prisons

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