The Society for Social Work and Research

2013 Annual Conference

January 16-20, 2013 I Sheraton San Diego Hotel and Marina I San Diego, CA

Traumatic Experiences and Predictors of Recidivism Among Juvenile Detainees

Friday, January 18, 2013
Grande Ballroom A, B, and C (Sheraton San Diego Hotel & Marina)
* noted as presenting author
Aaron C. Willis, MSW, Social Work Fellow in Adolescent Medicine, Indiana University, Indianapolis, IN
Matt C. Aalsma, PhD, Associate Professor, Indiana University, Indianapolis, IN
Purpose: Traumatic experiences among adolescents and juvenile offenders are a growing concern.  Research has shown that traumatic experiences place adolescents at greater risk for substance use, unsafe sexual relationships, sexually transmitted infections, behavioral difficulties, poor performance in school, and delinquency.  Circuitously, research suggests that the aforementioned behaviors are predictive for experiencing a traumatic event or delinquency or both.  It is clear that traumatic experiences are prevalent among juvenile offenders, however, little is known about the role trauma has in juvenile delinquency and even less is understood if a relationship exists between trauma and recidivism.  As part of a broader research project assessing access to mental and physical health care by youth detained in a large, midwestern detention center, we seek to understand the prevalence of traumatic experiences among detained youth and if any relationship exists between trauma and recidivism. 

Methods: Electronic juvenile court records for youths released from detention between April 2004 and March 2008 were accessed and were cross-referenced with mental health screening (measured by the Massachusetts Youth Screening Instrument-Second Version) that had been implemented in 2006.  Thus, data used in this study were from 2006-2008.  We analyzed each youth’s Traumatic Experiencesscore, based on 5 questions from the screener.  Recidivism data was gathered at sixth months.  Logistic regression was used to determine the impact of race, gender, age, and traumatic experience on recidivism.

Results: Among 1387 youth, 79.3% (1100) endorsed experiencing at least one traumatic experience.  Females were more likely to report something bad happening to them, χ2 = 22.63, p = .000, being raped or in danger of raped, χ2 = 235.21, p = .000, and having bad thoughts or dreams about something bad that happened to them, χ2 = 30.57, p = .000.  The results from the logistic regression indicate that: (1) a traumatic experience increases the likelihood of reoffending within six months, (β = 0.08, p < .032); (2) being Black or Hispanic predicts reoffending within six months, (β = -0.26, p < .001); and (3) being 12-14 years old increases the chances for reoffending (β = -0.14, p = .000).

Discussion: Similar to previous research, a high percentage of detainees experience a traumatic event.  We expected females to report being raped or in danger of being raped more often than males, but were surprised to find that females reported something bad happening to them more than males and that females were just as likely as males to report seeing someone badly injured or killed. Traumatic events did predict recidivism; however, further research is needed to understand the mechanisms of influence.

Support: HRSA/MCHB R40MC08721; HRSA/MCHB T7100008