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JUVENILE OFFENDERS: WHAT WORKS? A Summary of Research Findings

Roxanne Lieb

Washington State Institute for Public Policy The Evergreen State College Mail Stop: TA-00, Seminar 3162 Olympia, Washington 98505 Phone: (360) 866-6000, ext. 6380 Fax: (360) 866-6825

October 1994

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Introduction and Contents

This document can assist policymakers in understanding the major research findings in juvenile delinquency. It summarizes key findings and offers an overview. It is not an exhaustive review of the literature. Readers should consult the bibliography for publication citations.

The following topics are covered: • Risk Factors for Juvenile Delinquency • Can Juvenile Offenders Be Rehabilitated? • Are Diversion Programs Effective?

Page
3 4 7 8

• What Works With Violent & Chronic Juvenile Offenders? • Connection Between Juvenile and Adult • Criminal Careers • Results of Deinstitutionalization • Privately- and Publicly-Operated Facilities • Prevention of Delinquency • Influence of Single Parent Families

10 11 13 14 16 17

• Bibliography

The author thanks Janie Maki, Staci Thomas, Peggy Roper, and Tom Sykes for their assistance.

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Risk Factors for Juvenile Delinquency
“Overall, research findings support the conclusion that no single cause accounts for all delinquency and no single pathway leads to a life of crime.” Huizinga, Loeber and Thornberry, 1994

A literature review found the following factors to be important predictors of delinquency: 1. Early conduct problems—aggression, stealing, truancy, lying, drug use—are not only general predictors of delinquency many years later, but especially of serious delinquency, and in certain cases, of recidivism. 2. Children who have not outgrown their aggressiveness by early adolescence appear to be at high risk for delinquency. 3. Although juvenile arrest or conviction is a predictor of arrest or conviction in adulthood, the seriousness of the juvenile offense appears to be a better predictor of continued, serious delinquency in adulthood.

4. Individual family variables are moderately strong predictors of subsequent delinquency in offspring. Particularly strong predictors were poor supervision and the parents’ rejection of the child, while other childrearing variables such as lack of discipline and lack of involvement were slightly less powerful. In addition, parental criminality and aggressiveness, and marital discord were moderately strong predictors. Parent absence, parent health, and socioeconomic status were weaker predictors of later delinquency. 5. Poor educational performance predicted later delinquency to some extent, but available evidence suggests that accompanying conduct problems may be more critical. 6. A majority of eventual chronic offenders can be recognized in their elementary school years on the basis of their conduct problems and other handicaps. Loeber and Stouthamer-Loeber, 1987 Also see Farrington and Hawkins, 1991

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Can Juvenile Offenders Be Rehabilitated?
The Progress of Research:
“With a few isolated exceptions, the rehabilitative efforts reported so far have had no appreciable effect on recidivism.” Martinson, 1974

What Doesn’t Work:
The results of 170 control group studies with juvenile delinquents showed the following approaches did not work in reducing delinquent behavior: • • • • • • • • • • • · Desk or office probation casework* · Diagnostic assessments and/or referral only · Behavior modification for complex behaviors · General discussion groups · School attendance alone · Occupational orientation · Field trips · Work programs · Insight-oriented counseling · Psychodynamic counseling · Therapeutic camping Romig, 1982

Rehabilitation was effective given certain treatments in certain settings with certain offenders. Romig, 1978 Palmer, 1978 Ross and Gendreau, 1980

In reviewing the research, “it is clear that juvenile delinquency interventions have had much less impact than most interventions that...
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