Document Type

Working Paper

Publication Date



Recent law and scholarship has claimed that the developmental limitations of adolescents affect their capacity for control and decision making with respect to crime, diminishing their culpability and reducing their exposure to punishment. Social science has focused on two concurrent adolescent developmental influence: the internalization of legal rules and norms that regulate social and antisocial behaviors, and the development of rational thought to frame behavioral choices and decisions. The interaction of these two developmental processes, and the identification of one domain of socialization and development as the primary source of motivation or restraint in adolescence, is the focus of this paper. Accordingly, we combine rational choice and legal socialization frameworks into an integrated, developmental model of recidivism. We test this framework in a sample of 1,385 adolescent felony offenders who have been interviewed at six month intervals for four years. Using hierarchical and growth curve models, we show that both legal socialization and rational choice factors influence patterns of criminal offending over time. When punishment risks and costs are salient, crime rates are lower over time. We show that procedural justice is a significant antecedent of legal socialization, but not rational choice. We also show that both mental health and developmental maturity moderate the effects of perceived crime risks and costs on criminal offending.


Criminal Law | Juvenile Law | Law