The Role of Hopelessness and Procedural Justice on Depressogenic Outcomes in Serious Adolescent Offenders

Morgan Stutts, Joseph R. Cohen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Despite increasing depression and suicide rates in justice-system-involved youth, little is known about depressogenic risk factors in this population. Therefore, we explored how levels of and changes in hopelessness and perceptions of procedural justice predicted depressive and suicidal outcomes in justice-systeminvolved youth. Hypotheses: We hypothesized that higher levels and increasing trajectories of hopelessness, as well as of perceived injustice, would predict depressive symptoms and suicidal ideation across adolescence and emerging adulthood. We also expected that procedural injustice would explain the relation between hopelessness and these outcomes. Finally, we hypothesized that gender and race/ethnicity would moderate the influence of hopelessness and perceived injustice. Method: Data for the present study were collected as part of the Pathways to Desistance study. In total, 1,354 adolescents (M age = 16.04 years; 86.4% male; 41.4% non-Hispanic Black, 33.5% Hispanic, 20.2% non-HispanicWhite) convicted of serious offenses participated. For the present study, participants answered questions on measures of procedural justice, hopelessness, depression, and suicidal ideation across 11 time points over 7 years. Results: Using latent growth curve modeling, we found partial support for our hypotheses. Specifically, baseline levels of hopelessness predicted depression levels and increases in depression during adolescence (ps<.01). Further, changes in hopelessness predicted corresponding changes in depression throughout adolescence and emerging adulthood (ps <.001). Similarly, procedural justice levels predicted levels of depression (p <.001), and changes in procedural justice corresponded to changes in depression during emerging adulthood (p =.01). With regard to suicidal ideation, levels of and changes in hopelessness in emerging adulthood predicted corresponding suicidal ideation outcomes (ps ≤.01). Meanwhile, we found only marginal support for our mediation model (p =.05). Collectively, results did not vary across gender or race/ethnicity. Conclusions: Hopelessness and perceived injustice are unique predictors of depression for juvenile-justice-system-involved youth. Preventive interventions targeting both hopelessness and procedural justice could help attenuate elevated depression rates in this population.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)415-428
Number of pages14
JournalLaw and Human Behavior
Issue number6
StatePublished - Oct 20 2022


  • Developmental psychopathology
  • Hopelessness
  • Longitudinal
  • Procedural justice

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)
  • Law
  • General Psychology


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