Abstract: To What Extent Do Levels of Individual Functioning Influence Criminal Involvement:a Secondary Quantitative Analysis of the Research on Pathways to Desistance Data (Society for Social Work and Research 27th Annual Conference - Social Work Science and Complex Problems: Battling Inequities + Building Solutions)

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To What Extent Do Levels of Individual Functioning Influence Criminal Involvement:a Secondary Quantitative Analysis of the Research on Pathways to Desistance Data

Saturday, January 14, 2023
Laveen A, 2nd Level (Sheraton Phoenix Downtown)
* noted as presenting author
Stefanie Binion, MSW, Doctoral student, University of Alabama
Background and Purpose: Prior research has shown indicators of individual functioning among adolescents (i.e., mental disorders, substance use, and school status) influence criminal involvement in some capacity. Of the roughly two million youth who encounter the juvenile justice system annually, 50-75% meet the criteria for a mental health diagnosis and 40-80% of incarcerated youth have at least one diagnosable mental illness. Further, an estimated 1.9 to 2.4 million youth involved with the juvenile justice system have a substance abuse or addiction problem, and approximately 80% of youth within state juvenile justice systems report being drunk or high at the time of their crimes. Lastly, prior research among adolescents posits a link between low academic status and achievement and subsequent delinquent behavior, with high school dropouts at three- and one-half times more likely to be arrested, and eight times more likely to be incarcerated than their high school graduate counterparts. This paper explores the relationship between indicators of individual functioning and criminal involvement over time among justice-involved youth transitioning into adulthood.

Methods: Using secondary quantitative analysis, the current longitudinal study analyzed survey data from the Research on Pathways to Desistance study (PDS) at two time points: baseline and 84-months. Univariate and bivariate statistical analyses were conducted followed by multiple logistic regression to explore the relationship between mental health, substance use, school status, and criminal involvement among justice-involved youth to inform future research, practice, and policy endeavors.

Results: Within the study sample (n=1,354), 86 % (n=1,170) were male and 41.4% (n=561) were Black or Hispanic (33.5%, n=454). Data analysis revealed a significant positive relationship between substance use and offending (p<.001), and conversely, a significant negative relationship between school enrollment and offending (p=.041). No significant relationship was found between mental health problems and offending (p=.022). Throughout the ten-year study period (2000-2010), desistance from crime occurred by 22.3%, with a 25.9% decrease in illegal drug-use, and a 7.4% decrease in clinically significant mental health problems. Collectively, educational attainment among study participants was quite low with less than two-thirds obtaining a GED or high school diploma.

Conclusions and Implications: These findings suggest several implications for research, practice, and policy. Regarding research, findings demonstrate a dire need for updated data regarding the current mental health status, school status, and severity of substance use among justice-involved youth following the COVID-19 pandemic. Within the field, practitioners and educators in direct contact with justice-involved youth should consider the implementation of holistic programming to address the multifaceted needs of justice-involved youth to increase high school/GED completion and future educational attainment. Policymakers may, too, take note of these findings by acknowledging the potential of and need for nationwide juvenile justice problem-solving courts for youth.