Lowering the Age on Crime: An Assessment of Juveniles' Responsiveness to Heightened Criminal Sanctions
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Nationwide, the 1990s saw an increase in the rate of violent crimes committed by individuals under the age of 18. States responded to this rise with various policies including the lowering of the age of criminal majority, the age at which juveniles fully enter the adult criminal and judicial systems. This paper tests whether this policy caused a decrease in crime among the juveniles whose jurisdiction changed. I find that it did not. This conclusion is important since it sheds light on the question of whether juveniles respond rationally to heightened criminal sanctions. It is also an important conclusion in light of the social costs imposed by stiffer sanctions on juvenile crime including lower high school completion rates, higher recidivism rates, and higher expenses for taxpayers. This paper differs from prior research by using panel data and several applications of a difference-in-differences design to estimate this policy’s causal effect. In particular, this model tracks the crime rate over time of youths in Wisconsin and Wyoming whose jurisdiction changes from the juvenile to the adult system. The model compares the crime rates of each of these treatment groups to rates in various control groups in the same or a different state which do not undergo the same jurisdictional change. The results show that any deterrent effect of this policy change is too small—both in the long-term and the short-term—to be detected by these methods.
Cooper, Brenton (2015). Lowering the Age on Crime: An Assessment of Juveniles' Responsiveness to Heightened Criminal Sanctions. Honors and Undergraduate Research. Available electronically from