Journal of Youth and Adolescence

, Volume 40, Issue 1, pp 23–37 | Cite as

Identity-Linked Perceptions of the Police Among African American Juvenile Offenders: A Developmental Perspective

  • Joanna M. Lee
  • Laurence Steinberg
  • Alex R. Piquero
  • George P. Knight
Empirical Research


Ethnic identity development can play a role in youths’ perceptions and attitudes concerning police, but this process has not been explored in delinquent samples. In this article, we examine how youths’ perceptions of police legitimacy and levels of legal cynicism are related to processes of ethnic identity development. Participants were 561 black youth ages 14–18 (12% female) who were adjudicated of a felony or serious misdemeanor. Data were taken from semi-annual interviews conducted over 3 years. Increased ethnic identity exploration was related to positive perceptions of police legitimacy and lower legal cynicism. Higher ethnic identity affirmation predicted higher perceived legitimacy over time, but affirmation was not related to legal cynicism after accounting for psychosocial maturity. This study provides evidence that ethnic identity development operates similarly among high risk youth as in non-delinquent samples, and that it is connected to beliefs that can have implications for juvenile offenders’ future compliance with the law.


Ethnic identity Juvenile offenders African American youth Legal cynicism 



The project described was supported by funds from the following: Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, National Institute of Justice, John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, William T. Grant Foundation, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, William Penn Foundation, Center for Disease Control, National Institute on Drug Abuse (R01DA019697), Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency, and the Arizona Governor’s Justice Commission. We are grateful for their support. The content of this paper, however, is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of these agencies.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  • Joanna M. Lee
    • 1
  • Laurence Steinberg
    • 2
  • Alex R. Piquero
    • 3
  • George P. Knight
    • 4
  1. 1.Curry School of EducationUniversity of VirginiaCharlottesvilleUSA
  2. 2.Department of PsychologyTemple UniversityPhiladelphiaUSA
  3. 3.College of Criminology and Criminal JusticeFlorida State UniversityTallahasseeUSA
  4. 4.Department of PsychologyArizona State UniversityTempeUSA

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