Extracurricular Activity Involvement and the Impact of Involvement on Justice System Outcomes

Lauren Duhaime Bush

Advisor: Cesar J. Rebellon, PhD, Department of Criminology, Law and Society

Committee Members: Evan Marie Lowder, Stacey Houston II, Danielle Rudes

Online Location, #Online
November 06, 2023, 10:00 AM to 12:00 PM


Recent literature (Carter, Venkitasubramanian & Bradshaw, 2020; Barnes and Motz, 2018; Nance, 2016; Welch et. al, 2022) on the school-to-prison pipeline has emphasized the lack of empirical knowledge around key independent covariates that impact the pathway from school to criminal justice involvement, and whether or not that pathway is further impacted by the race of the student. However, a portion of juvenile justice literature consistently finds that the system's response to person’s involved in the system can depend on extralegal factors beyond the severity of that person’s offense and their prior record. For example, prior research consistently concludes that factors such as race, ethnicity and gender are associated with juvenile justice outcomes, regardless of the involved individual’s actual behavior or prior record. Another section of juvenile justice literature is centered on relevant social phenomena at play during the commission of a criminal act. For example, Social Bond Theory (Hirschi, 1969) assumes that individuals have natural inclinations to commit crime, and the reason that they commit crime is because they have weak social bonds to conventional society, others, and goals such as education and employment. Largely absent from the existing literature, however, is an empirical assessment of the degree to which these social forces identified consistently in the literature may not only affect offending behavior of an individual, but also affect the system's treatment of a given offender. The present study argues that elements derived from Hirschi's social bond theory may not only affect offending behavior, but may likewise bias the system, such that peripheral by-products of the social bond, such as relationships and accrued social capital, can act as protective factors guarding youth against harsh treatment in the juvenile justice system. Building on the social bond framework, I argue that increased social capital may be one important byproduct of involvement in conventional activities, and that increased social capital, in turn, provides a buffer against harsh treatment in the system even after controlling for levels of self-reported delinquency.  Importantly, researchers have previously found that participation in structured, supervised activities (extracurricular activities) is a valuable way to build connections with pro-social peers and adults. Opportunities for positive social connections may be especially important among youth most at risk for exposure to violence, delinquency and anti- social behavior (Tolan et al. 2003; Wilson 2012), or for non-white youth. Although researchers have investigated extracurricular activity participation and involvement extensively among youth, most of this research has focused on its connection to academic achievement and other positive outcomes. Empirical investigation of the effect that involvement in extracurricular activities can have on youth, specifically those already involved in delinquency, through expanding positive social connections and social capital, has received limited attention. The proposed work seeks to understand whether involvement in conventional extracurricular activities serves as a buffer against more harsh treatment in the criminal justice system, while controlling for self-reported levels of delinquency: by exploring one main research question: Do youth experience the same justice system outcomes based on their extracurricular activity involvement, regardless of their level of self-reported delinquency? This study utilizes data from the Add Health dataset, Waves I, II and III. In addition to the main research question, analysis will further examine if these outcomes hold constant across activity type, level of involvement, and race. Race will be tested in two ways, where it can be considered either a moderating covariate or a mediating covariate, of which the logic for both ways is meticulously outlined in the work. With a diverse and growing minority population in the United States, exploring how race functions in the relationship between involvement in activities and justice systems responses is warranted.