Given limited research, however, the impact of fees (specifically) and financial sanctions (as a group) on youth’s recidivism is unclear. In this study, we rigorously examine (1) whether juvenile fee repeal in Alameda County, California reduced recidivism, and (2) the extent to which total financial sanctions increase recidivism.
Methods: To address these two aims, we accessed, linked, and analyzed administrative data from county and state agencies, using a machine learning approach paired with Targeted Maximum Likelihood Estimation (TMLE). Baseline covariates included age, gender, race, socioeconomic status, risk level, qualifying referral offense and year.
For Aim 1, TMLE was performed to compare the pre-repeal (N=1,656) and post-repeal (N=745) cohorts of youth on any arrest in the year after probation placement. For Aim 2, TMLE was performed on the whole sample (N=2,401)using financial sanctions in the first three months as interventions (coded as none/low/moderate/high; or as none/any) and any arrest in months 4–24 as outcome.
Results: Aim 1 results indicate—counter to predictions—that the likelihood of rearrest was greater in the post-repeal cohort than the pre-repeal cohort (by 7 percentage points, 95% CI: 0.03–0.11, p < 0.01). Given that analyses of the pre-repeal sample indicate that fees alone do not significantly predict rearrest, we assume this difference between cohorts is attributable to an unobserved variable.
Aim 2 results indicate that having any financial sanction (compared to no financial sanction) modestly but significantly increased youth’s likelihood of rearrest (by 4 percentage points, 95% CI: 0.001–0.08, p <0.05). The level of sanctions imposed (none/low/mod/high), however, did not significantly predict reoffending.
Conclusions and Implications: We replicated and extended Piquero & Jennings’ (2017) finding that financial sanctions are a weak risk factor for recidivism. However, we found no support for the premise that fees (specifically) are risk factors—or that repealing fees will reduce recidivism. Our findings provide no support for the argument that fee repeal reduces recidivism. We recommend advocates instead rely on the empirically supported argument that fee repeal meaningfully reduces the load of financial burdens that families with justice involved youth otherwise bear (see Chambers et al., 2021).