Abstract: Ecologies of Reoffending: A Systematic Review of Risk and Protective Factors for Justice-Involved Youth (Society for Social Work and Research 24th Annual Conference - Reducing Racial and Economic Inequality)

19P Ecologies of Reoffending: A Systematic Review of Risk and Protective Factors for Justice-Involved Youth

Thursday, January 16, 2020
Marquis BR Salon 6 (ML 2) (Marriott Marquis Washington DC)
* noted as presenting author
Leah Jacobs, PhD, Assistant Professor, University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, PA
LauraEllen Ashcraft, MSW, PhD Student, University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, PA
Craig Sewall, MSW, Doctoral Student, University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, PA
Background: The past decade has ushered in an ecological turn in juvenile recidivism research. Eager to identify high-risk youth and to prevent reoffending, researchers have moved beyond individual- and relational risk factors to also consider the role of ecological factors (e.g., neighborhood disadvantage) in predicting and increasing the risk of reoffending (i.e., repeated delinquency). Despite this expansion, little consensus exists on what ecological factors matter, how they affect reoffending, or for whom they matter most.  This paper seeks to clarify this area by taking stock of existing research on the role of ecological factors in reoffending, and answering the following research questions: (1) What, if any, ecological factors act as risk or protective factors for reoffending among youth? And, (2) if associated, what is the nature of the relationship between ecological factors and reoffending (i.e., how and for whom do residential contexts matter for reoffending)?

Methods: We conducted a systematic review of studies, following the guidelines set forth in Preferred Reporting Items for the Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis Protocols (PRISMA-P) and guidance from delinquency scholarship. Eligibility criteria identified studies that (1) were conducted in the United States from 1983 to 2017; (2) sampled youth with index offenses before the age of 18; (3) tested an ecological risk/protective factor; (4) had a dependent variable of re-offense (e.g., repeated delinquent behavior, and re-arrest); (5) had a follow-up period of six months or greater; and (6) used a longitudinal or experimental design. Two researchers reviewed, extracted data, and assessed quality for each eligible study. Using a narrative synthesis approach, we categorized variables into 13 domains and assessed support for their effects on reoffending, above and beyond (or in interaction with) other established individual risk markers or factors for reoffending (i.e., gender, age, and delinquency history or risk score).

Results: Twenty-three studies, containing 84 tests of ecological factors, met inclusion criteria. About half of the tests of ecological variables yielded statistically significant associations with reoffending (43/84). Results for concentrated disadvantage, the most frequently tested factor, were mixed (statistically significant in 15 of 28 tests; k = 15). Studies also commonly tested the association between demographic factors (e.g., neighborhood racial composition) and reoffending, which were fairly consistent in their lack of statistical significance (8 of 10 tests; k = 7). Other factors were tested infrequently or in few samples. As for variation in effects across studies, we found the relationship between ecological factors and reoffending differed by outcome definition and sample.

Conclusion and Implications:  Together, the studies in this review indicate ecological factors cannot be summarily dismissed nor accepted as risk factors for juvenile reoffending. Instead, further theoretically driven research is warranted.  Social work delinquency scholars, given their focus on situating individual behavior in environmental contexts, have an important role to play in further developing this area of research. To aid in this venture, we will present six specific lessons based on our findings, including implications for future social work scholarship on the ecology-reoffending relationship.