This paper studies the impact of adult prosecution on recidivism and employment trajectories for adolescent, first-time felony defendants. We use extensive linked Criminal Justice Administrative Record System and socio-economic data from Wayne County, Michigan (Detroit). Using the discrete age of majority rule and a regression discontinuity design, we find that adult prosecution reduces future criminal charges over 5 years by 0.48 felony cases (↓ 20%) while also worsening labor market outcomes: 0.76 fewer employers (↓ 19%) and $674 fewer earnings (↓ 21%) per year. We develop a novel econometric framework that combines standard regression discontinuity methods with predictive machine learning models to identify mechanism-specific treatment effects that underpin the overall impact of adult prosecution. We leverage these estimates to consider four policy counterfactuals: (1) raising the age of majority, (2) increasing adult dismissals to match the juvenile disposition rates, (3) eliminating adult incarceration, and (4) expanding juvenile record sealing opportunities to teenage adult defendants. All four scenarios generate positive returns for government budgets. When accounting for impacts to defendants as well as victim costs borne by society stemming from increases in recidivism, we find positive social returns for juvenile record sealing expansions and dismissing marginal adult charges; raising the age of majority breaks even. Eliminating prison for first-time adult felony defendants, however, increases net social costs. Policymakers may still find this attractive if they are willing to value beneficiaries (taxpayers and defendants) slightly higher (124%) than potential victims.
Michael Mueller-Smith, Benjamin D. Pyle & Caroline Walker,
Estimating the Impact of the Age of Criminal Majority: Decomposing Multiple Treatments in a Regression Discontinuity Framework
Available at: https://scholarship.law.bu.edu/faculty_scholarship/3631