Home > About the Pathways Study > Purpose


The study sought to inform the ongoing debate in the juvenile justice system regarding the treatment and processing of serious adolescent offenders. Within the last decade, almost every state has changed its statutes to allow for easier transfer of these adolescents to adult court. Some commentators have questioned whether a separate juvenile justice system is even warranted, given its dismal record at controlling or deterring juvenile crime. This debate is occurring, however, with limited data on either patterns of desistance or escalation among serious adolescent offenders or the effects of interventions and sanctions on trajectories of offending during and after adolescence. Although some studies suggest that most offenders curtail or stop antisocial behavior in late adolescence, this research has relied on very small samples of serious offenders or on very limited measurement of antisocial behavior patterns and developmental change. In addition, little is known about the impact of various types of sanctions and interventions on outcomes other than antisocial behavior; we know very little, for example, about how different sanctions affect juveniles' mental health, psychological development, or transition into adult roles.

The Pathways to Desistance study is a multi-site, study that follows approximately 1,354 serious juvenile offenders from adolescence to young adulthood in two locales: Philadelphia and Phoenix. Repeated assessments were made of the adolescents' psychological development, behavior, social relationships, mental health, and experiences in the juvenile or criminal justice system. Interviews were done regularly with adolescents as well as their family members and friends over a seven year period after their involvement in court for a felony level offense. The aims of the investigation are to:

The larger goals of the Pathways study are to improve decision-making by court and social service personnel and to clarify policy debates about alternatives for serious adolescent offenders. We hope to provide juvenile justice professionals and policy-makers with reliable empirical information that can be applied to improve practice, particularly regarding juveniles' competence and culpability, risk for future offending, and amenability to rehabilitation.