While many criminological theories posit causal hypotheses, many studies fail to use methods that adequately address the three criteria of causality. This is particularly important when assessing the impact of criminal justice involvement on later outcomes. Due to practical and ethical concerns, it is challenging to randomize criminal sanctions, so quasi-experimental methods such as propensity score matching are often used to approximate a randomized design. Based on longitudinal data from the Cambridge Study in Delinquent Development, the current study used propensity score matching to investigate the extent to which convictions and/or incarcerations in the first two decades of life were related to adverse mental health during middle adulthood.
Propensity scores were utilized to match those with and without criminal justice involvement on a wide range of risk factors for offending.
The results indicated that there were no significant differences in mental health between those involved in the criminal justice system and those without such involvement.
The results did not detect a relationship between justice system involvement and later mental health suggesting that the consequences of criminal justice involvement may only be limited to certain domains.