This study explores education outcomes of students who were enrolled in 8th or 9th grade in Washington state public schools during the 2010-2011 academic year (AY10-11) and who were involved in one or more juvenile court cases that year. All juvenile court cases were categorized into three main categories: 1) juvenile delinquency cases, 2) juvenile dependency cases, and 3) status offense cases (see the sidebar for definitions). These students were followed over a period of five years after their court involvement to allow for examination of high school outcomes and postsecondary enrollment. The study comparison group was the remainder of 8th or 9th graders who were not involved with the juvenile court during AY10-11.
The study found that court-involved students differed from court non-involved students in many observable ways. In particular, students who came into contact with the court systems disproportionally experienced adverse social, economic, and physical conditions such as poverty, housing instability, school mobility, special education needs, and in-school disciplinary sanctions. For many court-involved students, these adverse conditions were evident since 6th or 7th grade, i.e., two years prior to their court involvement. Regardless of court involvement, these students were at a heightened risk for not graduating.
In regard to education outcomes, we found that court-involved students underperformed on most markers of educational achievement compared to their court non-involved peers. Yet, the type of court involvement mattered. Students involved in multiple types of court cases during the same school year fell even further behind academically compared to students who were involved in only one type of juvenile court cases.
Key findings include:
An important take-away from this study is that court involvement is associated with higher dropout and lower graduation rates. Earning a high school diploma or having a GED (for students who did not graduate) plays a significant role in determining whether a student will enroll in a postsecondary institution. The fact that only 20% of students involved with the juvenile court in 8th or 9th grade graduated from high school and only 13% earned a GED poses a significant challenge. These findings illustrate importance of searching for new and more effective approaches to improving outcomes for students who are at risk of being involved with the court systems and those who are already involved with the court.