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Impact of community-based provider reports on juvenile probation officers’ recommendations: Effects of positive and negative framing on decision making [2019]

This study examined whether varying the presentation of information about a youth’s compliance with probation requirements in community provider reports influenced juvenile probation officers’ (JPOs) perceptions and court recommendations. This study used an experimental design to explore the impact of report framing (positive, neutral, negative) and youth risk level (low, high) on JPOs’ decision making. Pennsylvania-based JPOs (N = 209) participated in an anonymous, online study. Participants read one of six community provider reports about a hypothetical probationer and answered five questions about impressions of the youth and their recommendations to the court. JPOs who read negatively framed information rated compliance and effort significantly lower than those who read positively or neutrally framed information. JPOs who read negatively framed information reported lower likelihood of recommending positive court responses and greater likelihood of recommending negative court responses, particularly when considering probation revocation for youth identified as high risk. JPOs rated compliance significantly higher for youth identified as low risk than for youth identified as high risk. Mediation analyses revealed that JPOs’ perceptions of youth significantly mediated the pathway between report framing and court recommendations, but did not mediate the pathway from youth risk level to JPOs’ recommendations. Findings suggest that JPOs differentially interpret identical behaviors depending on the framing of information. Given that negatively framed information evoked significantly more unfavorable impressions and punitive recommendations, practitioners should consider how youths’ progress on probation is communicated among court personnel, particularly as ongoing juvenile probation reform efforts seek to promote consistent treatment across youth.

Gale-Bentz, E., Goldstein, N. E. S., Cole, L. M., & Durham, K.
Law and Human Behavior, 2019
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