Original Research by NMRC Research Board Highlights Impact of Mentoring on Long-Term Justice System Involvement

By: Mike Garringer, National Mentoring Resource Center

One of the more challenging questions a mentoring program can get asked is “What’s the long-term impact of mentoring?” While most of the stakeholders in our work have an inherent belief in mentoring young people, often borne of their own experiences, occasionally those we bring into this movement want to know what all this work with kids adds up to. They may wonder how the mentoring of children and adolescents results in different lives when those individuals are adults, and how their changed lives can impact communities or even the nation. While the best answers to these questions would involve data about your own mentees and their experience in your program, it can often be helpful to draw on more holistic data when making the case around the long-term impact of mentoring.

The Research Board of the National Mentoring Resource Center recently undertook some original data analysis that can help answer these questions, especially as they relate to preventing criminality and justice system involvement later in life. Drs. Kelly Stewart and David DuBois of the University of Illinois Chicago recently analyzed data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent to Adult Health (Add Health) to investigate the relationship between youth reports of having a mentor and subsequent criminal justice-related outcomes. The dataset consists of a nationally representative sample of adolescents who were in grades 7 through 12 when beginning participation in the study during the 1994-1995 school year. Youth reports of having a mentor (at any time since age 14) were collected at Wave III in 2000 when study participants were between the ages of 17 and 26. Information on adult and juvenile arrests and criminal justice-related outcomes for participants was obtained at Wave IV in 2008 when they were between the ages of 25 and 34. This analysis sheds light into how the presence of mentors in the lives of children can contribute to some pretty interesting positive differences later in life.

Almost 78% of the sample of 3,241 youth indicated that they had indeed experienced a mentoring relationship (mostly informal and not through a program) during their adolescence. Compared to those who did not report having a mentor, mentored youth were:

  • 1.9 percentage points less likely to have been arrested as a juvenile (4.6% vs. 6.9%)
  • 3.2 percentage points less likely to have one or more arrests as either a juvenile or adult (26.5% vs. 29.7%)
  • 4.7 percentage points less likely to have two or more arrests (13% vs. 17.7%)

These findings were more pronounced for females and for those who described their mentoring relationships as still close or important to them. Those youth who reported still feeling at least somewhat close to the mentor had a 5.3 percentage point lower likelihood of having had an arrest at the later follow-up. Those who no longer had a close relationship with that mentor did not differ from those who never had one in terms of long-term arrest rates.

Mentored participants, when surveyed as adults, were also:

  • 2.1 percentage points less likely to have gotten in a physical fight in the past year (3% vs. 5.1%)
  • 1 percentage point less likely to have shot or stabbed someone in the past year (0.9% vs. 1.9%)

While these percentages do not sound large in the conventional sense, it’s important to remember that across the whole population, small percentages of reduced justice system involvement throughout the lifecycle can lead to tremendous cost savings for communities and the nation, not to mention the positive life impact for both those who may have committed crime and their victims.

The full report breaks down these findings in greater detail, but the comparisons here provide important evidence that the presence of mentors in the lives of young people, particularly if those relationships can endure over time, can have a significant impact on delinquency and criminality that extends far beyond childhood. Mentoring programs can cite this new research with making the case to stakeholders that mentoring makes a difference—with the emphasis here on building relationships that endure and become meaningful in the long-term highlighting the need for quality program practices and mentoring that is tailored to the needs of youth and communities.

The report also ends with some recommendations and calls to action for both mentoring programs and policymakers. We encourage OJJDP grantees and others in the mentoring movement to check out these recommendations and to keep doing this valuable work. As illustrated here, there is noteworthy evidence that these relationships can contribute to real long-term changes in lives and we hope this new research helps you make that case to those engaged in your work.

To access the resource, please click here.