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For children, jail time does not deter crime

The idea behind sending juvenile offenders to jail is simple: If they spend time behind bars, then they become less likely to commit crimes as adults. The authorities want to step in early to stop future crimes. They see jail time as a deterrent that makes children want to avoid breaking the law.

But does it work? Does spending months or even years behind bars actually make it less likely that young people will grow up and become adult offenders?

The answer may surprise you. According to one study, not only does jail time not deter crime, but it actually makes it more likely that young people will commit various crimes as adults.

67 percent of young offenders become recidivists

In the study, youthful offenders who were sentenced to jail terms were 67 percent more likely to wind up back in prison by the time they turned 25 years old.

Some may argue that of course those who commit crimes as children are more likely to commit crimes as adults, when compared to the general population. But that is not what the study revealed. Instead, it compared young people who committed crimes and went to jail with young people who committed similar crimes and did not serve any time in jail.

So, the only difference was that jail time. The study suggests that it is the sole reason these individuals had such high crimes rates as adults.

High school drop-out rates rise for kids who serve time

The study also found that criminal charges make it less likely that young offenders will finish high school. For instance, those who got convicted but did not end up in jail were 13 percent more likely to complete their high school education than those who went to jail. Those who never got convicted at all were 39 percent more likely to complete high school. The study looked at children from the same neighborhood, so this really was a comparison between peers.

Some of this is just the natural impact of going to prison. Even a short prison term puts a child far behind his or her peers in school. Many of these young people do not return to school when they get out.

Future impacts of youthful jail sentences

What the study really shows is just how great of an impact a criminal case can have on a young person's life as a whole. That conviction goes beyond jail time and financial fines. The sentence can change the course of a person's life. With time spent behind bars, education rates fall drastically. Arrest rates later in life rise just as dramatically. This singular event may define what a person becomes as he or she grows up.

That is why it is so important for young people and their parents to understand all of the legal rights and options they have when facing criminal charges.

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