The Economics of Juvenile Jurisdiction

John K. Roman and Jeffrey A. Butts (2005). The Economics of Juvenile Jurisdiction. Washington, DC: Urban Institute.

Arguments about the value of juvenile justice versus criminal justice traditionally focus on legal principles, adolescent development, and the relative effects of prevention and punishment. This paper suggests adding a cost-benefit approach to the debate. Every state currently has a separate justice system for juveniles, but what could happen if lawmakers made different choices about the types of youth that should be handled in that system? What would be the economic consequences of restricting (or expanding) use of the juvenile justice system? The answer depends on what policy changes were implemented and whether access to the juvenile system was changed for all youthful offenders or only some. In the view of the Research Roundtable, three basic options are available to U.S. policymakers who want to modify the use of the juvenile system: (1) complete abolition of the juvenile justice system, (2) legal abolition of the juvenile system with reinvention of a juvenile-like system within the criminal system, and (3) incremental jurisdictional changes.