Invariance and the Procedural Justice-Legitimacy Relationship for Serious Juvenile Offenders

Salih C. Alexander

Advisor: Devon Johnson, PhD, Department of Criminology, Law and Society

Committee Members: Christopher Koper, Cesar Rebellon

Online Location, Online
July 25, 2022, 09:00 AM to 11:00 AM


Research has consistently supported the idea that the level of procedural justice (employing fair and neutral procedures, conveying transparency and trust, treating people with dignity and respect, and providing citizens with meaningful voice and participation in the process) used by police predicts citizens’ evaluations of police legitimacy. These perceptions of procedural justice and evaluations of police legitimacy hold particular importance for members of marginalized groups. Accordingly, practitioners have focused on increasing the level of procedural justice used during interactions between police and citizens. Similarly, researchers have continued to examine the dynamics of these interactions. Studies have revealed that there are differences in attitudes about police and perceptions of police procedural justice for people of different ages, genders, races, neighborhoods, criminal justice experiences, and beliefs. Further differences in perceptions have been noted outside of the United States, particularly in non-westernized countries. Despite those differences, procedural justice has still developed into a “general theory” in that it is hypothesized to have the same effect on everyone. Because one of the major outcomes of procedural justice is increased legitimacy, a general theory of procedural justice would suggest that greater perceived procedural justice would increase evaluations of legitimacy for everyone. However, the differences in group perceptions of procedural justice raise questions as to whether the strong effect of procedural justice on legitimacy beliefs is in fact general or “invariant” across different groups, individuals, and situations. Unfortunately, there is little research on this “invariance thesis” and all of the research on this concept has been done using surveys of adults and non-offenders and with the effect police procedural justice on legitimacy. None of the research involves invariance in courts. Using data from the Pathways to Desistence Study done using serious juvenile offenders in Philadelphia, PA and Phoenix, AZ, this dissertation partially replicates and extends research done by several scholars (particularly Wolfe, in 2016) by 1) examining the overall effect of procedural justice on legitimacy beliefs for serious juvenile offenders  while controlling for other factors, such as demographics, criminal justice experiences, situational, and individual factors and 2) testing the invariant effect of PJ police and courts on legitimacy for serious juvenile offenders across demographic, criminal justice experience, situational, and individual interaction terms. This analysis includes unexplored interactions using Andrews and Bonta’s “Big 4” criminogenic needs (antisocial attitudes, peers, history, and personality) as component variables of proposed moderators. The results of this project will provide important insights for future research, theory, and policy.