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JUVENILE INCARCERATION, HUMAN CAPITAL, AND FUTURE CRIME: Juvenile Incarceration Results in “Substantially Lower” High School Completion Rates, According to Study

Juvenile incarceration results in “substantially lower” high school completion rates and higher adult incarceration rates, according to a recent paper by Joseph Doyle, Erwin H. Schell Professor of Management and professor of applied economics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Sloan School of Management, and Anna Aizer, associate professor of economics and public policy at Brown University.

“Once incarcerated, a juvenile is unlikely to ever return to school, suggesting that even relatively short periods of incarceration can be very disruptive and have severe long-term consequences for this population,” the study notes. “Moreover, for those who do return to school, they are more likely to be classified as having a disability due to a social or behavioral disorder, likely reducing the probability of graduation even among those who do return to school and possibly increasing the probability of future criminal behavior.”

The study, Juvenile Incarceration, Human Capital and Future Crime: Evidence from Randomly-Assigned Judges, notes that United States spends $6 billion annually on juvenile corrections. More than 130,000 juveniles are detained in the United States each year at an average annual direct cost of $88,000.

Doyle and Aizer base their findings on a study of roughly 37,000 individuals in Chicago Public Schools who came before the juvenile justice court system between 1990 and 2006. They divide the group into two subgroups—the 29,000 individuals who were not incarcerated and the 8,500 who were. Of the incarcerated group, 77 percent were African American, 15 percent were Latino, and 7 percent were white.[1] Only 3 percent ultimately graduated from high school, compared to 12 percent of the non-incarcerated juvenile group. Nearly half (49 percent) of the incarcerated group were incarcerated again as an adult before turning twenty-five years old, compared to 28 percent of the non-incarcerated juvenile group.

The study offers several alternatives forms of punishment to incarceration, including electronic monitoring and well-enforced curfews, which “have the potential to increase high school graduation rates and reduce the likelihood of adult crime.” It also suggests policies that provide additional support and resources for juveniles upon their release. One policy that seems to work in the opposite direction is increased police presence in schools, which, Doyle and Aizer note, has led to an increase in juvenile arrests for “relatively mild infractions” and likely leads to an increase in juvenile detention and decreases in high school graduation rates.

Doyle and Aizer’s research comes on the heels of The School Discipline Consensus Report: Strategies from the Field to Keep Students Engaged, a 2014 report from the Council of State Governments Justice Center that offers a comprehensive plan for educators, health officials, law enforcement agencies, juvenile justice officials, and others on how to improve school climate and address student misbehavior while keeping students engaged and providing a safe learning environment for all.

Juvenile Incarceration, Human Capital and Future Crime: Evidence from Randomly-Assigned Judges is available at

[1] African Americans made up 55 percent of the student population in Chicago Public Schools during the study period, while Hispanic students made up 27 percent and white students made up 14 percent.

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