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During adolescence, youths develop attitudes about the justice system. Although there is consistent evidence that personal experiences with legal actors contribute to attitudes toward the justice system, adolescents’ attitudes may also be influenced vicariously through their friends’ experiences with the justice system. Using data from a sample of 1,216 first-time male adolescent offenders, the present study examines how attitudes toward the justice system develop over 24 months following the adolescent’s first arrest. Even after accounting for personal justice system experiences, including self-reported offending, time on the streets, and contacts with the police, results indicate that adolescents with friends who were arrested report more negative attitudes toward the justice system than those without friends who were arrested. Further, experiencing a friend’s arrest has a larger impact on the attitudes of youths who are experiencing it for the first time. We provide evidence that attitudes toward the justice system are a product of accumulated social experiences—both personal and vicarious—with the justice system.


Institute for Learning Sciences and Teacher Education

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Journal Article

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