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Procedural justice and legitimacy in adolescent offenders: associations with mental health, psychopathic features, and offending

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Thesis type
((Thesis)/(Dissertation)) Ph.D.
Date created
Procedural justice is defined as the fairness of the process and procedures used to make legal decisions. Theories of procedural justice suggest that when individuals experience respectful and fair decision-making procedures, they are more likely to view the law as legitimate and, in turn, are less likely to reoffend. However, when individuals come into contact with the legal system, they are not blank slates. They possess beliefs, personalities, and characteristics that may systematically influence their assessment of procedural justice and legitimacy. To date, little attention has been paid to the impact of these intra-individual differences on perceptions of procedural justice and legitimacy. Moreover, studies validating models of procedural justice have largely relied on samples of adults. Few studies have examined the relationship between procedural justice, legitimacy, and offending in youth, and none have examined whether procedural justice continues to predict offending when other, well-established risk factors for offending are controlled. The current study followed a sample of 92 male and female youth on probation in British Columbia, Canada, for 6 months. Results indicated that youth who had higher scores on the Massachusetts Youth Screening Instrument-Second Version (MAYSI-2) Drug/Alcohol Use and Traumatic Experiences scales experienced the justice system as less fair and legitimate. Youth who scored higher on the Interpersonal, Lifestyle, and Antisocial subscales of the Hare Psychopathy Checklist: Youth Version (PCL-YV) reported believing less strongly in the legitimacy of the law. Perceptions of procedural justice predicted self-reported offending at 3 months, but not 6 months, and youths’ beliefs about the legitimacy of the law did not mediate the relationship between procedural justice and offending. Results also showed that procedural justice accounted for unique variance in self-reported offending over and above the predictive power of well-established risk factors for offending (i.e., peer delinquency, substance abuse, psychopathy, and age at first contact with the law). Directions for future research and practical implications of these findings are discussed.
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Scholarly level
Supervisor or Senior Supervisor
Thesis advisor: Viljoen, Jodi L.
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