Juvenile recidivism is a serious public health concern. Recidivism rate among youth with a history of childhood maltreatment is of particular concern as they tend to start their offending at younger ages and continue their criminal careers after the transition into adulthood than their counterparts who have no maltreatment histories. Previous studies collectively provide valuable insight into interventions that recidivism can be significantly prevented if the interventions target their previous or on-going traumatic experiences; yet repeated offending among maltreated youth has not been thoroughly examined. The current study makes a contribution by discriminating the effect of childhood maltreatment from selection bias and the effects of systems involvement using matched sampling.
We created an integrated data set linking several sources of statewide administrative data from Departments of Education and Human Services, and Judicial Branch. Of 3,977 first-time offenders aged from 10 to 15 between September 1, 2009 - August 31, 2011, we identified 698 youth (17.5%) as having at least one official record for substantiated maltreatment incidents before their initial involvement in the juvenile justice system. We employed propensity score matching to select 698 delinquency-only youth matched with 698 maltreated youth on a set of background covariates to investigate the independent effect of maltreatment on repeated reoffending. Recidivism was measured by counting the number of subsequent offenses over 3 years after their first offense. To investigate the individual and the combined influences of maltreatment with independent variables on recidivism, we employed a negative binomial regression model considering the counted nature of the outcome variable.
The matched sample consisted of 38% males, 39% white, 40% African American, 14% Native American, and 6.7% Hispanic youth. Over a three-year period, overall 63.3% of youth recidivated. Of those youth, 65.2% of maltreated youth recidivated after their initial offense compared to 61.5% of delinquency-only youth. A positive relationship between child maltreatment and repeated offending remained statistically significant beyond the inclusion of confounding variables (OR: 1.23, p<.001). The results from separate analyses identified a different set of predictors between maltreated and delinquency-only youth. In both groups, being a youth of color, especially African (OR: 1.74, p<.001 and OR: 1.42, p<.001, respectively) and Native Americans (OR: 1.38, p<.05 and OR: 1.41, p<.05) and having a diagnosed emotional/behavioral disability (OR: 1.52, p<.01 and OR: 1.65, p<.01) remained significantly associated with the risk of continuing reoffending for both groups. For maltreated youth, males had significantly higher odds of recidivism compared with females (OR: 1.31, p<.001). We found more predictors for delinquency-only youth including entering into the juvenile justice system at younger ages (OR: 0.9, p<.01), having been suspended from school (OR: 1.53, p<.001) and placed out of home placement prior to their first offense (OR: 1.84, p<.001) or continuing out of home placement (OR: 1.63, p<.01).
Conclusions and Implications:
Recidivism can be significantly prevented if the interventions target their previous or on-going traumatic experiences. Preventive interventions for first-time offenders require individualized and non-stigmatizing support including mental health service, placement stability, and academic support.