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Study: Juveniles more likely to re-offend if mother doesn't understand legal process

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Juvenile first-time offenders whose mothers don't get involved in their legal proceedings are much more likely to commit another crime, according to a new study.

The study from Michigan State University looked at the cases of more than 300 male juvenile first-time offenders aged 13 to 17. Since juvenile offenders often don't have a present father in their lives, researchers chose to focus on offenders with female primary guardians.

The study followed up with the boys one year later. Those whose mothers didn't participate in their legal process were much more likely to have re-offended.

Caitlin Cavanagh, the MSU assistant criminology professor who led the study, says there's a clear need for more education and resources for parents with children in the juvenile justice system.

"Just as there are ways for parents to help in academic contexts, there are ways for parents to help in legal contexts, insomuch that they know what to do," Cavanagh said.

Mothers in the study who knew the least about the system were also the least likely to participate in their child's proceedings.

"Some of these kids are doing it alone, simply because their parents don't know how to help, and those are the kids we're seeing that are re-offending a year later," Cavanagh said.

Cavanagh says many mothers also cited structural barriers for their limited participation. Things like not being able to get enough time off work to attend the many hearings or not having transportation to the courthouse.

Rebecca Kruth is the host of All Things Considered at Michigan Radio. She also co-hosts Michigan Radio’s weekly language podcast That’s What They Say with English professor Anne Curzan.
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