Document Type

Article

Publication Date

2005

Abstract

Legal socialization is the process through which individuals acquire attitudes and beliefs about the law, legal authorities, and legal institutions. This occurs through individuals' interactions, both personal and vicarious, with police, courts, and other legal actors. To date, most of what is known about legal socialization comes from studies of individual differences among adults in their perceived legitimacy of law and legal institutions,' and in their cynicism about the law and its underlying norms.2 This work shows that adults' attitudes about the legitimacy of law are directly tied to individuals' compliance with the law and cooperation with legal authorities.3 Despite the potential importance of the development of these attitudes about law and their connection to illegal behavior, previous research on legal socialization prior to adulthood (i.e., adolescence) is rare.

Although some writers have discussed the ways in which family members and adults in the community shape children's and adolescents' attitudes and beliefs about law-related matters,4 little is known about the ways in which adolescents' legal socialization is shaped by their actual contact with the legal system. In fact, only a very small number of studies have examined legal socialization prior to adulthood.5 These studies have examined children's perceptions of law and legal procedures, 6 rights and a "just world,"7 and legal reasoning.8 These early studies generally have relied either on cross-sectional or experimental designs, often with general population samples of young adults. As such, they are generally silent on the developmental component of legal socialization, the role of socializing conditions, and processes that children experience in everyday life.

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