Arts & Sciences

Juvenile justice: ‘We are coming up short’

Research from Joshua Jackson indicates that, by some measures, juvenile justice gets it wrong. (Image: Shutterstock)

Does being sentenced to juvenile detention or community service truly serve as a means to rehabilitation?

One mechanism to rehabilitate a young person deemed by the justice system to be on the path to a life of crime is to change behaviors associated with crime.


A research team at Washington University in St. Louis tested whether the system affected those it was charged with rehabilitating by following adolescents prior to and after sentencing. What they found, according to Joshua Jackson, PhD,  the Saul and Louise Rosenzweig Associate Professor of Personality Science in the Department of Psychological & Brain Sciences in Arts & Sciences, was “a surprising lack of anything positive.”

The results were published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

Research has established that certain personality traits — such as impulsivity and sensation-seeking — are correlated with a person’s likelihood of committing a crime, Jackson said. “Personality is relatively consistent across decades,” he said. “But certain things can change it.” Research shows, for example, that military service can have an effect on a person’s personality.

If the true aim of the juvenile justice system is rehabilitation, Jackson said, “One way it might achieve that is by influencing the personality traits that may have contributed to people landing in the system in the first place.”

The research team included former PhD student Kathryn Bollich-Ziegler, former graduate student Emorie Beck and Patrick Hill, PhD, associate professor of psychological and brain sciences.

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