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Juvenile Incarceration, Human Capital, and Future Crime Evidence from Randomly-Assigned Judges

Over 130,000 juveniles are detained in the United States each year with 70,000 in detention on any given day, yet little is known about whether such a penalty deters future crime or interrupts social and human capital formation in a way that increases the likelihood of later criminal behavior. This article uses the incarceration tendency of randomly assigned judges as an instrumental variable to estimate causal effects of juvenile incarceration on high school completion and adult recidivism. Estimates based on over 35,000 juvenile offenders over a 10-year period from a large urban county in the United States suggest that juvenile incarceration results in substantially lower high school completion rates and higher adult incarceration rates, including for violent crimes. In an attempt to understand the large effects, we found that incarceration for this population could be very disruptive, greatly reducing the likelihood of ever returning to school and, for those who do return, significantly increasing the likelihood of being classified as having an emotional or behavioral disorder.