Review: First Juvenile Arrests

Reviewer: Sarah Krantz, Esq.

Article to be Reviewed: Kim, KiDeuk; Kirk, David S., Liberman, Akiva M., Labeling Effects of First Juvenile Arrests: Secondary Deviance and Secondary Sanctioning, In press, Criminology (Feb. 2014) http://www.urban.org/sites/default/files/alfresco/publication-pdfs/413274-Labeling-Effects-of-First-Juvenile-Arrests-Secondary-Deviance-and-Secondary-Sanctioning.PDF.


Police policies towards juveniles has the deep-rooted goal of retribution rather than rehabilitation. While states have begun to move away from the punitive philosophy of juvenile justice, a convincing case can be made that American society is still very much “governed through crime,” with a youth control complex that criminalizes juveniles at an extraordinary level.

In the 2014 study Labeling Effects of First Juvenile Arrests: Secondary Deviance and Secondary Sanctioning, researchers examined the collateral consequences effects of arresting juveniles. Deterrence theorists predicted that arrests would have the specific deterrent of reduced offending, while labeling perspectivists predicted that arrests would lead to an increase in offending and criminal sanctioning. Literature was split on the debate but findings from this study and others have shown that first arrests more often caused the labeling theory to prevail.

Labeling theory includes two mechanisms that can lead to an increase in deviancy. First is the primary mechanism: that labeling a juvenile as “delinquent” affects the child’s self-conception or personal identity towards a deviant belief in themselves. This deviant status is then internalized due to society’s reactions to their behavior; this new deviant status becomes the central focus of the juvenile’s life. The secondary mechanism focuses more on the social and societal responses applied from external sources, such as the stigma that is now associated with juveniles whom have been arrested.

The findings of Labeling Effects of First Juvenile Arrests showed that first juvenile arrests led to a greater likelihood of future offending. First arrests led to an even greater likelihood of rearrests as compared to future offending. Thus, the increased likelihood of rearrests was not due to the increase in offending. Rather, there is an external link such as the way teachers, school, and especially police see children who have already been arrested for a crime once in their lives. The arrests become a label on the children for the world to view and for children to then have to respond to and justify.

These labels also exemplify a secondary sanction imposed on juveniles. It is suggested that an arrest record officially marks a juvenile as a criminal and changes the way educational institutions treat the student. Students with criminal records are then pushed out of schools through exclusionary policies and segregated into programs for troubled youth. This results in an increased school dropout rate and lower chances of going to college, thus leading to a higher likelihood the juvenile will live a life of crime.

One of the ways a child can escape their label is to move or to change schools— putting a physical distance between an arrestee seeking reform and the watchful eye of the authorities. However, in the communities most affected by large populations of youth arrests, relocation is not a realistic option. Youths are mostly stuck with their labels and continuing on the path that their first arrest led them down.
The only way to really change the system is to reduce the amount of juveniles that are arrested. Police officers need to realize they are placing a stigma on juveniles that perpetuates criminal behavior, even in juveniles that would not otherwise have committed crimes, rather than weeding it out early