Methods: The current study analyzed archival legal assessment data on 543 youth who served probation in a Midwestern juvenile court between 2015 and 2017. Data was collected by probation officers via semi-structed interviews using the Youth Level of Service/Case Management Inventory and Protective Factors for Reducing Juvenile Reoffending. MANOVA, t-test, chi-square, and Receiver Operating Characteristic/Area Under the Curve analyses were implemented to investigate and compare the criminogenic profiles of youth who misused substances (n = 157) and those who did not (n = 386). The predictive validity of the legal assessments was also examined.
Results: Substance-misusing youth were older, male, committed property offenses, had higher risk/need scores, and lower protective scores. Girls reported more academic achievement, help-seeking, and prosocial attitudes. Boys reported more access to resources and positive adult bonds. Racial/ethnic minority youth scored significantly higher on total risk score and demonstrated lower protective factor scores than their white counterparts, however they were more likely to report religiosity as a protective factor. Racial/ethnicity minority youth demonstrated higher judicial treatment needs in the areas of family circumstances, education, and association with delinquent peers. Although the legal system assessments significantly predicted recidivism for youth who did not struggle with substance misuse, they did not predict recidivism for substance-misusing youth.
Conclusions: The local university-court collaboration in which this research was conducted has led to the administration of evidence-based risk/needs and protective factor assessments that have significantly improved juvenile legal system practitioners’ assessment and judicial treatment decisions for adjudicated youth. This research not only underscores the importance of understanding the distinct characteristics of vulnerable subpopulations of adjudicated youth, but also the need to examine whether evidence-based practices promote gender and racial equity. This research has direct implications for the policies and procedures that guide juvenile courts assessment and treatment of vulnerable youth subpopulations.