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Is jail for juvenile offenders effective in preventing future crime?

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A probation officer walks through a dormitory at Camp Afflerbaugh.
Grant Slater/KPCC
A probation officer walks through a dormitory at Camp Afflerbaugh.

A new UCLA study finds that in-house probation lowers recidivism for first time violent juvenile offenders.

When it comes to first-time violent juvenile offenders, is jail effective at preventing future crimes?

A new UCLA study finds that in-house probation lowers recidivism for first time violent juvenile offenders.  

Using data from the Los Angeles County Probation Department and the county Department of Children and Family Services, researchers pulled out hundreds of thousands of records of first-time violent offenders 16 years old and younger who were arrested from 2003 to 2005.

The offenders were given one of three judicial dispositions: in-home probation, group-home placement, or probation camp.  They then followed the records of those youth through February 2009 to see if they had been arrested again. 

Key findings from the study include:

  • Rates of re-offending varied significantly relative to youths’ punishment and treatment: “Compared with in-home probation, the likelihood of recidivism was 2.12 times greater for youths assigned to probation camp and 1.28 times greater for youths assigned to group homes.”
  • “Within the first year only, 13% of youths assigned to in-home probation experienced a subsequent arrest. Twice as many (26%) probation camp youths and 17% of group-home youths experienced a subsequent arrest within the same time period.”
  • “At five years, 39% of in-home probation cases, 47% of group-home placements, and 65% of probation camp placements were associated with a new offense.”
  • “Male youths are significantly more likely to recidivate [re-offend] as compared with female youths, and African American youths are significantly more likely to recidivate as compared with both Hispanic and white youths.”
  • However, “African American and Hispanic youths were more likely to receive placement in either a probation camp or group-home setting as compared with white youths adjudicated for a similar offense.”
  • Certain family-related factors were correlated with negative outcomes: “The risk of recidivism was 1.36 times greater for youths with an open child welfare case.”


Laura Abrams, professor of social welfare in the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs, says, “there’s more common knowledge now that sentencing juveniles out of the home for isn’t good for the kids.”

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