Adolescents' experiences in their interactions with police and other legal actors subtly shape their perceptions of the relation between individuals and society. These experiences influence the development of adolescents' notions about law, rules, and agreements among members of society, and about the legitimacy of authority to deal fairly with citizens who violate society's rules. It is likely that these beliefs influence compliance with the law, both among adolescents in general and among juvenile offenders in particular, after they have been sanctioned for their offenses. Because one focus of the Network's activity is on understanding influences on patterns of desistance or re-offending, we are concerned about youths' understanding of and participation in legal processes that express societal norms, their assessments of the fairness of the process, and their views of the legitimacy of the law and the institutions that enforce it.
Legal socialization, the process through which individuals acquire attitudes and beliefs about the law, has received only scant attention from those interested in adolescent development. It includes both affective components (e.g., the extent to which one feels fairly treated by representatives of the legal system, sometimes referred to as "procedural justice") and substantive components (e.g., one's actual beliefs about the legitimacy and fairness of the law). Legal socialization is critical in shaping adolescents' perceptions of the law, rules, and agreements among members of society, as well as the legitimacy of authority to deal fairly with citizens who violate society's rules.
Because the enforcement of law differs by neighborhood, children and adolescents growing up in neighborhoods of different social composition experience the law in very different ways. This Network project is a pilot study that assesses variation in legal socialization as a function of adolescents' neighborhood contexts. The study will measure differences by neighborhood in: (1) the development of adolescents' notions about the law; (2) their understanding of and participation in legal processes that express societal norms; (3) their assessments of the fairness of the process; and (4) their views of the legitimacy of the law and the institutions that enforce it.
The specific aims of this pilot study are:
- to identify and measure interactions of children and adolescents with law and legal actors, estimate differences in these interactions by neighborhood, gender, race and age;
- to describe developmental trajectories of legal socialization by neighborhood, gender, race and age;
- to assess influence of interactions with legal actors on legal socialization, assess mediating effects of neighborhood, family, and individual factors; and
- to develop methods and measures for a longitudinal study of legal socialization of adolescents.