enforcement authorities and judges. Both positive and negative interactions with legal authorities are likely to influence the way youth perceive the law and respond to juvenile justice interventions.
Making conduct illegal, disapproving its occurrence, apprehending suspected offenders, holding adjudicatory hearings, and administering sanctions communicate messages to the public, including adolescents, about the importance of adhering to a particular norm or to the law in general.1 Cumulatively as well as in specific cases, these events and actions may affect the adolescents’ beliefs about, and attitudes toward, personal responsibility for wrongdoing, obedience to law, obligations to victims, and fairness in the administration of justice
A key message of this chapter is that accountability practices in juvenile justice should be designed specifically for juvenile justice rather than being carried over from the criminal courts and should be designed to promote healthy social learning, moral development, and legal socialization during adolescence. If designed and implemented in a developmentally informed way, procedures for holding adolescents accountable for their offending can promote positive legal socialization, reinforce a prosocial identity, and facilitate compliance with the law. However, unduly harsh interventions and negative interactions between youth and justice system officials can undermine respect for the law and legal authority and reinforce a deviant identity and social disaffection.
ACCOUNTABILITY FROM A DEVELOPMENTAL PERSPECTIVE
Accepting responsibility for oneself and one’s behavior has consistently been regarded as a key measure of maturation in numerous studies involving participants from a variety of socioeconomic classes and ethnic groups, and it has been identified as a key outcome of socialization in Western societies (see Arnett, 2007). Socialization can be thought of as a succession of processes occurring at successive stages of development, in which individuals are taught the behaviors, values, and motivations needed for competent interaction with other individuals in a culture. It is an interactive process that involves dynamic relationships between socializing agents and developing youth. In the study of socialization and moral development, the focus has shifted from the behavior of authority figures and adolescents, respectively, to a greater concern with the interactions between
1 This chapter emphasizes the declarative or expressive effects of prescribing and enforcing the law. As discussed in Chapters 5 and 6, the severity of the threatened sanction probably has little effect in motivating adolescents to refrain from offending. Although increasing the perceived probability of detection may deter adolescent offending, the committee regards deterrence as a secondary consideration in the design of juvenile justice adjudications and dispositions.