Methods: The data came from the Pathways to Desistance study, a longitudinal study which followed 1,354 adolescents who were adjudicated for serious offenses (primarily felonies) in either Maricopa County, Arizona or Philadelphia County, Pennsylvania over a 7-year period. The analytic sample included youth who participated in the study at baseline. Using procedural justice scales adapted from previous studies, participants were asked a number of questions relating to the fairness of their direct and vicarious interactions with police. Potential scores ranged from 0 to 5, with higher scores indicating higher levels of procedural justice. A summary exposure to violence score was calculated using an adapted version of the Exposure to Violence Inventory, representing the numbers of types of violence participants reported being exposed to, either as a victim or witness.
Results: Exposure to violence scores ranged from 0 to 13, with youth reporting exposure to an average of 5.43 (SD=2.99) types of violence. Procedural justice scores averaged 2.77 (SD=.51) and ranged from 1.39 to 4.49. Regression analyses yielded significant associations between exposure to violence and police procedural justice, with each additional type of violence experienced associated with a .05 (p<.001) decrease in perceptions of police procedural justice. This relationship remained significant after controlling for a number of child, family, and demographic characteristics. Interaction analyses found that race moderated the association between exposure to violence and procedural justice, with the effect of increased exposure to violence on procedural justice smaller for African American youth.
Conclusions and Implications: This study indicates that justice-involved adolescents with exposure histories to more types of violence may perceive treatment by police as less fair than those exposed to fewer. This suggests the need for future research exploring factors and interventions relating to practices for police in interactions with youth that are informed by trauma and experiences with violence. This study also contributes to our understanding of the predictors of procedural justice among justice-involved adolescents, which is of particular importance given research supporting the association between procedural justice and future desistance from criminal activity. This study is also informative in supporting efforts to maintain juvenile justice systems that are perceived as fair and just by the youth they serve.