Research on Tyler’s process-based model has found strong empirical support. The premise of this model is that legitimacy and legal cynicism mediate the relationship between procedural justice and compliance behaviors. Procedural justice and legitimacy in particular have been linked to compliance and cooperation and a small, but growing body of literature has examined how these factors relate to criminal offending. There remains a number of unanswered questions surrounding the developmental processes and underlying mechanisms of procedural justice and legal socialization. The purpose of this study is twofold. First, this study will build upon recent trends in the literature to examine what factors influence changes in perceptions of procedural justice and legal socialization attitudes over time. In order to do so, the effects of a number of time-stable and time-varying covariates will be assessed. Second, this study will evaluate the effects of four possible mediating measures—legitimacy, legal cynicism, anger, and prosocial motivation—underlying the relationship between procedural justice and criminal offending. This section of the study will use a multilevel mediation method to assess whether mediation occurs between or within the individual.
Data from the Pathways to Desistance Study—a longitudinal study of 1,354 adolescents adjudicated of a serious offense followed-up for seven years—are used to address this research agenda. Results from this study offer three general conclusions. First, results show that perceptions of procedural justice are malleable, that is, they can change over time and are influenced by a number of factors. Legal socialization beliefs, however, demonstrate only marginal change over time, suggesting these beliefs to be more stable. Second, analyses indicate differing pathways and effects for direct and vicarious experiences of procedural justice. Finally, the multilevel mediation analyses reveal that within-individual changes in direct experiences of procedural justice remains a robust predictor of offending, regardless of the presence of mediating variables. Legitimacy was found to have the strongest mediation effect on between-individual differences in direct procedural justice, whereas anger partially mediated the effects of between-individual differences in vicarious procedural justice. This study concludes with a discussion of policy implications and avenues for future research.