Perceptions of the legal system and recidivism: Investigating the mediating role of perceptions of chances for success in juvenile offenders
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Youth crime is a significant problem in the United States, and the link between youth delinquency and future adult criminal behavior is well documented (Kalist, Lee, & Spurr, 2015; Paternoster, Brame, & Farrington, 2001). Theories and previous research of perceptions of the legal system indicate that individuals who view interactions with the legal system as respectful and legal decision-making procedures as fair are more likely to comply with the law (Fagan & Tyler, 2005; Paternoster, Brame, Bachman, & Sherman, 1997; Tyler, 1997). Youths’ perceptions of chances for success (Menard & Elliott, 1996) may be linked to both perceptions of the legal system and recidivism, as youths’ perceptions of legal institutions have been linked to their expectations about their own behavior (Lane, Lanza-Kaduce, Frazier, & Bishop, 2002; Schubert, Mulvey, Loughran, & Losoya, 2012), and youths’ perceptions of chances for success have been connected with offending (Iselin, Mulvey, Loughran, Chung, & Schubert, 2012). Because it is well documented that racial and ethnic groups differ in their involvement with the justice system (McNulty & Bellair, 2003), perceptions of the police and legal system (Lee, Steinberg, Piquero, & Knight, 2011; Reitzel & Piquero, 2006), and general perception of future success (Luzzo & McWhirter, 2001; McWhirter, 1997), ethnicity may play a role in the relations between these constructs. Using a sample of serious juvenile offenders, the current study examined relations between perceptions of the legal system and recidivism, exploring the roles of perceptions of chances for success as a mediator and ethnicity as a moderator. The results indicate that, in Black and Hispanic juvenile offenders, but not White, perceptions of chances for success mediates the relation between perceptions of the legal system and recidivism, providing the first analysis of a model examining perceptions of chances for success in the relation between perceptions of the legal system and recidivism. The current study offers support for the suggestion that interventions aimed at preventing youth from engaging in illegal behaviors may need to be tailored to target ethnic-specific attitudes and foster beliefs in ethnic minority youth that they are capable of future success.