Society for Social Work and Research

Sixteenth Annual Conference Research That Makes A Difference: Advancing Practice and Shaping Public Policy
11-15 January 2012 I Grand Hyatt Washington I Washington, DC

17183 Gendered Trajectories of Youth Offending and Psychosocial Covariates

Saturday, January 14, 2012: 5:00 PM
Arlington (Grand Hyatt Washington)
* noted as presenting author
Cynthhia Weaver, PhD, Assistant Professor, University of Southern Mississippi, Hattiesburg, MS
Bobby Jones, PhD, Statistician, University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, PA
Kathleen A. Bolland, PhD, Professor, University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa, AL
Purpose - Use of data to empirically distinguish between low-, medium-, and high-risk first time juvenile offenders has the potential to avoid the unnecessary incarceration and system penetration of low- and medium-risk offenders. This is particularly important, as restrictive sanctions and placements are disproportionately applied to minority youth living in poverty, regardless of the severity of their first offense (Gatti, Tremblay, & Vitaro). Several recent studies identified youth offending trajectories (Chung, Hill, Hawkins, Gilchrist, & Nagin, 2002; D'Unger, Land, & McCall, 2002; Wiesner, Capaldi, & Kim, 2007); however, females were under-represented and most studies relied on youth self-report of offending or cohort data from the 1950's (D'Unger et al.). Authors present data from a longitudinal trajectory modeling study, where over 37% of the contemporary sample were females. Psychosocial variables associated with escalated trajectories of offending, such as prior child maltreatment, are also presented. The study was funded by the National Institute of Justice (2009-IJ-CX-0024).

Methods – Trajectories of offending over an eight year observation period were specified for an availability sample of N = 15,959 first time male and female juvenile offenders who committed their first official juvenile offense in the year 2000. Youth across a full range of charges were included. Semiparametric group modeling (Jones, Roeder, & Nagin, 2001) was used to specify offending trajectories, using a frequency count of unique complaints by age. Time incarcerated was accounted for to avoid over-representing youth who appear to desist from offending, but are actually incarcerated; few trajectory modeling studies have made this important adjustment (Blokland, Nagin, & Nieuwbeerta, 2005). Multinomial logit regression was used to investigate psychosocial covariates present at first offense as predictors of trajectory group membership.

Results - Results specified a three-solution model for females and a six-solution model for males. Across trajectories and genders, prior child maltreatment (both substantiated and unsubstantiated) was a significant risk covariate for escalated court contact. Living in foster care at first offense was a significant risk for females. Living with a blended family, grandparents, or relatives at first offense was a significant risk for males. School referral for first offense was a significant protector against escalated offending.

Implications -The data provide promising findings that have the potential to improve assessment and treatment responses for first time youth offenders. Presentation of results focuses on translating research into juvenile justice policy and practice. Authors discuss the study results as one tool in informing the development of evidence-based assessment instruments designed to more accurately distinguish between low-, medium-,and high-risk youth first time offenders. Such assessment protocols are particularly important in avoiding the disproportionate confinement of minority youth. Understanding likely patterns of offending and associated psychosocial risks also helps practitioners identify key intervention targets for first time youth offenders at high risk of future escalated court contact unless relevant and timely interventions are introduced, particularly for dual status youth. “Real-world” strategies for developing service partnerships across sectors to respond to the psychosocial needs of dual status youth will also be discussed.