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When police stop and question an individual for suspected delinquency or crime, they may either arrest that individual or release them without any formal arrest. Most of the criminological literature relating to police contact experiences focuses on the arrest experience, but the findings are conflicting, and several conceptual considerations limit our knowledge of the impact of an arrest. Notably, when examining the effects of any arrests, many studies actually measure an “average dose of arrest” effect. The effects of a single, first arrest are unclear. In addition, much less attention has been given to police contacts that end with the youth being released, even though this outcome is more common following a police-initiated stop of a suspect. To address these limitations, this study examines first police contact experiences—including both those that end in a release and those that end in an arrest. This dissertation seeks to improve our understanding of punishment decisions and their effects within the modern criminal justice system. It is motivated by two overarching questions. First, what factors predict a first police contact? Second, what are the effects of a first police contact on offending? The following chapters introduce this topic and review extant literature, including a review of the plausible theoretical explanations for first contact effects. Data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent to Adult Health is used to examine the predictors and effects of first police contacts. Several findings can be summarized briefly. First, respondents with a first stop (and release) were substantively similar to youth with no contact, while youth with a first arrest varied substantially in comparison to non-arrested youth. Second, the effects of first police contacts were largely criminogenic and associated with increases in later offending. In the last chapter of the dissertation, the major implications for theory, research, and policy are discussed.