Antecedents of legal cynicism unpacked: The impact of parental incarceration, race, and ACEs on its development

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Journal Article

The recent rise in homicide has led to ongoing debate on the role of law enforcement due to research that suggests cynicism in the legal system can be criminogenic and lead to violence. Understanding how and why legal cynicism develops is important to improve police-community relationships and to lower crime.

The current study uses a national data set and structural equation modeling to understand how familial factors such as parental incarceration, experiencing adverse childhood experiences, and youth race are predictive of legal cynicism and how this might be mediated through experiencing police stops.

Findings suggest race, parental incarceration, and ACEs are all directly predictive of police stops and indirectly predictive of legal cynicism. Only race and parental incarceration directly predict legal cynicism.

Given the current concerns over rising violent crime rates in urban cities and the quality and nature of police-citizen interactions, our results provide a timely analysis of risk factors contributing to the development of legal cynicism. Findings suggest that, not only must we be concerned with the well-documented impact of police contact, we should expand our view to include experiences with parental incarceration. Implications for practitioners and criminal justice professionals are discussed.

Journal of Criminal Justice
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