Abstract: The Decline in Criminal Behavior and a Profile of Criminal Justice Involvement: Findings from Transition-Age Foster Youth (Society for Social Work and Research 21st Annual Conference - Ensure Healthy Development for all Youth)

The Decline in Criminal Behavior and a Profile of Criminal Justice Involvement: Findings from Transition-Age Foster Youth

Friday, January 13, 2017: 6:15 PM
La Galeries 4 (New Orleans Marriott)
* noted as presenting author
Keunhye Park, MSW, Doctoral Student, University of Chicago, Chicago, IL
Mark E. Courtney, PhD, Professor, University of Chicago, Chicago, IL
Background:  Given their histories of maltreatment and exposure to other risk factors, foster youth experience a range of obstacles along their developmental trajectories, including challenges of avoiding criminal justice involvement.  Studies reported that foster youth are more likely than young people in the general population to become involved with the criminal justice system during their transition to adulthood (Cusick, Havlicek & Courtney, 2012; Vaughn, Shook & McMillen, 2008).  Studies have also identified factors associated with a greater risk of criminal justice involvement, such as demographic factors (e.g., gender and race) and low educational attainment (Lee, Courtney & Hook, 2012). This study first explores changes in engagement in criminal behavior between ages 17 to 19 among foster youth. It then examines the youths’ criminal justice involvement at age 19, assessing differences by gender, race, and care status. 

Methods:   Information about participants’ self-reported criminal behavior and criminal justice involvement were collected at ages 17 and 19 in Waves 1 and 2 of the CalYOUTH Study, respectively.  In both waves, participants were asked about how often they engaged in a variety of criminal behaviors in the past 12 months (e.g., theft, vandalism, assault), and dummy variables were created to indicate if youth ever engaged in each behavior.  In Wave 2, respondents were asked about whether they were arrested, convicted of a crime, or incarcerated since their last interview at age 17.  First, the proportion of youth engaging in one or more criminal behaviors was compared between the ages of 17 and 19.  Second, the incidence of criminal justice involvement (arrest, conviction, and incarceration) at age 19 since their last interview was evaluated.  Also, significant group differences (p< .05) in criminal justice involvement were examined by gender, race/ethnicity, and care status (stayed in care vs. left care at the time of wave 2 interviews) using chi-square tests.  All analyses used weights to account for the survey design.

Results:  In the last 12 months, 33% of respondents reported ever engaging in criminal behaviors that were asked about at age 19, compared to 53% reporting criminal behavior at age 17.  Regarding criminal justice involvement since their last interview, about 15% of young adults reported having ever been arrested, 8% said they were convicted of a crime, and 13% were incarcerated for at least one night.  There were significant gender differences, with males being more likely than females to have been arrested (21% vs. 10%), convicted (13% vs. 6%), and incarcerated (18% vs. 9%).  Youth still in care were less likely than those who left care to report having been arrested (12% vs. 25%), convicted (5% vs. 20%), and incarcerated (10% vs. 24%).  Race/ethnicity was not associated with criminal justice involvement.

Conclusions:  Consistent with earlier studies, estimates indicate a notable decrease in criminal behavior as youth entered adulthood and differences in involvement by gender.  Given the differences observed by care status, future research is needed to more rigorously examine the potential protective factor of extended care as well as the role of other risk and protective factors.