Strength-based models cannot fully address direct links to future offending in detained girls

Forensic Training AcademyDetained girls’ low quality of life is indirectly linked to future offending through increased mental health problems. This is the bottom line of a recently published article in Law and Human Behavior. Below is a summary of the research and findings as well as a translation of this research into practice.

lhbFeatured Article | Law and Human Behavior | 2016, Vol. 40, No. 3, 285-294

Quality of Life in Relation to Future Mental Health Problems and Offending: Testing the Good Lives Model Among Detained Girls

Authors

Lore Van Damme, Ghent University
Machteld Hoeve, University of Amsterdam
Robert Vermeiren, Curium-Leiden University Medical Center, Leiden, the Netherlands
Wouter Vanderplasschen, Ghent University
Olivier F. Colins, Curium-Leiden University Medical Center, Leiden, the Netherlands

Abstract

Detained girls bear high levels of criminal behavior and mental health problems that are likely to persist into young adulthood. Research with these girls began primarily from a risk management perspective, whereas a strength-based empowering perspective may increase knowledge that could improve rehabilitation. This study examines detained girls’ quality of life (QoL) in relation to future mental health problems and offending, thereby testing the strength-based good lives model of offender rehabilitation (GLM). At baseline, 95 girls ( = 16.25) completed the World Health Organization QoL instrument to assess their QoL prior to detention in the domains of physical health, psychological health, social relationships, and environment. Six months after discharge, mental health problems and offending were assessed by self-report measures. Structural equation models were conducted to test GLM’s proposed (in)direct pathways from QoL (via mental health problems) toward offending Although we could not find support for GLM’s direct negative pathway from QoL to offending, our findings did provide support for GLM’s indirect negative pathway via mental health problems to future offending. In addition, we found a direct positive pathway from detained girls’ satisfaction with their social relationships to offending after discharge. The current findings support the potential relevance of addressing detained girls’ QoL, pursuing the development of new skills, and supporting them to build constructive social contacts. Our findings, however, also show that clinicians should not only focus on strengths but that detecting and modifying mental health problems in this vulnerable group is also warranted.

Keywords

good lives model, psychopathology, young offenders, female adolescents, follow-up studies

Summary of the Research

“Many detained female adolescents are involved in severe criminal behavior, such as robbery and physical violence. In addition, these girls bear high levels of mental health problems, with up to 95% having at least one psychiatric disorder” (p. 285). “It is not well understood why some girls recover from mental health problems or desist from future criminal involvement whereas others do not. This could arise in part because the majority of prospective studies with detained girls has focused on risk factors associated with the persistence of mental health and adjustment problems. These studies, of course, are relevant from a risk management perspective as they help clinicians to develop and provide interventions that are mainly oriented toward solving problems and reducing risk factors. Nevertheless, research that adds the enhancement of one’s quality of life (QoL) to the management of risk is urgently warranted. Studies that apply this strength-based perspective may inform clinicians, for example, how to support offenders in building skills and developing more fulfilling and socially acceptable lifestyles, which is thought to be linked to the reduction of risk. The present study was designed to fill this void by addressing detained girls’ QoL in relation to future mental health problems and offending, thereby testing the strength-based good lives model of offender rehabilitation (GLM)” (pp. 285-286).

“The GLM offers a rehabilitation framework for adult offenders. It forms a theoretical framework to explain relapse and reoffending, introducing QoL as a central concept. According to the GLM, humans want to realize a range of primary goods or basic needs  (e.g., inner peace and relatedness), and achieving these needs contributes to their QoL. The GLM consists of two main assumptions:  that mental health problems are obstacles that hamper the achievement of a good QoL (first GLM assumption) and that individuals who are confronted with a poor QoL may become involved in antisocial activities through either a direct or indirect pathway (second GLM assumption). The direct pathway implies that someone actively commits antisocial behaviors as an alternative strategy to reach a satisfying QoL (e.g., stealing instead of working to obtain material well-being). The indirect pathway implies that an individual’s poor QoL generates a gradual accumulation of negative experiences and deteriorating circumstances that trigger a chain of mental health problems, such as depressed feelings, often followed by alcohol/drug use. Ultimately, he or she loses control of the situation and becomes involved in criminal activities” (p. 286).

“The GLM has been applied to a broad range of offender populations yet only rarely to detained adolescents” (p. 286). “The present study [tested] GLM’s second assumption in a sample of detained girls, focusing on QoL prior to detention in relation to mental health problems and offending 6 months after discharge. We included multiple domains of QoL (i.e., physical health, psychological health, social relationships, environment), different types of mental health problems (i.e., anger-irritability, alcohol/drug use, depression-anxiety), and different types of offenses (i.e., nonviolent and violent)” (p. 286). “The participants were 95 girls who had been placed in an all-girl youth detention center (YDC) in Flanders, Belgium. Girls are referred to this YDC by a juvenile judge when charged with a criminal offense or because of an urgent problematic educational situation” (p. 287).

“Overall, girls with the lowest QoL scores had the highest rates of mental health problems after discharge, but were not at increased risk for future offending.  Although we could not find support for a direct negative pathway from QoL to offending, our findings did provide support for the indirect pathway via mental health problems to offending. This indicates that a low QoL increases the risk of mental health problems, which in turn increases the risk on offending. In addition, our findings revealed a direct positive pathway from detained girls’ satisfaction with their social relationships to offending after discharge. This suggests that the more girls are satisfied with their social relationships the more likely they are to reoffend” (p. 291).

“The results of the current study clearly support the presence of an indirect route to offending, as previously found among adult offenders . A low QoL placed detained girls at risk for mental health problems, which placed them at risk for offending subsequently. Detained girls’ QoL and mental health problems, together with the selected sociodemographic variables, could explain the vast majority of the variance in offending after discharge” (p. 291).

“The results of the current study did not support a direct negative effect of detained girls’ QoL on offending. This contrasts with the scant empirical research among adult offenders suggesting that a low QoL is a risk factor for recidivism” (p. 291).

“The present study found a direct positive effect of detained girls’ satisfaction with their social relationships on offending after discharge. Although this finding does not dovetail with prior work in adult offenders, it indicates that the more girls are satisfied with their social relationships the more likely they are to reoffend. The exclusive direct impact of the social domain of QoL on girls’ offending supports a multidimensional conceptualization of QoL, and converges with the GLM assertion that individuals attach different priorities to the different domains of QoL” (p.292).

Translating Research into Practice

“The prominent appearance of an indirect route from QoL via mental health problems to offending among detained girls yields some interesting insights pertaining to the rehabilitation of this particularly vulnerable group. Recent studies in samples of juvenile offenders have recommended a strength-based empowering approach, over a more traditional, problem-oriented one. For example, starting off by exploring the youngsters’ own perception of QoL, instead of immediately focusing on specific problems, has been shown to be a less threatening and more motivating approach. The current findings acknowledge the potential relevance of addressing one’s QoL. However, they strongly point to a pivotal role of mental health problems in the pathways toward offending, a finding that argues against an exclusive focus on strengths and empowerment. Put differently, and regardless of the importance of a strength-based approach, our findings suggest the need for appropriate methods for detecting and modifying mental health problems in this vulnerable group” (p.291).

“The lack of a direct negative effect in our sample might be because the GLM is developed as a rehabilitation framework for adult, not adolescent, offenders. Although offending among adults might be primarily guided by their own unmet needs and a poor QoL, offending among adolescents might also be to external influences, such as affiliation with deviant peers. Another explanation is that the basic needs of adolescents are generally served by their surroundings, and that these needs therefore may not be the most prominent force guiding one’s behavior.  Yet, when entering adulthood and becoming more and more financially and socially responsible to fulfill their own basic needs, some adolescents may eventually become actively involved in criminality to reach a satisfying QoL. A strength-based empowering approach might pursue the development of new skills and abilities, thereby providing adolescents with desirable and socially acceptable means to obtain a good QoL before they reach adulthood. However, the highly structured and almost artificial nature of detention forms a major challenge, as it restricts the youngsters’ autonomy and hampers the possibility to develop and practice new skills” (p.292).

The “findings regarding the social domain of QoL yield implications for both research and practice. In line with prior work, we suggest that future research regarding the GLM should pay particular attention to negative peer group affiliation and gang membership as inappropriate ways of satisfying detained minors’ primary goods of relatedness and community/ group involvement. In this respect, a qualitative research approach seems useful: for example, asking youngsters about the priority they assigned to different primary goods at the time of offending, and how they operationalized different primary goods at that time. We suggest treatment to support youngsters in building, strengthening, and extending constructive, instead of destructive, social contacts, by offering peer-helping programs, such as EQUIP. In the EQUIP program detained juveniles help each other to decrease self-serving cognitive distortions and to strengthen their moral and social skills” (p. 292).

Other Interesting Tidbits for Researchers and Clinicians

“The indirect pathway from detained girls’ QoL to offending was found for the overall latent QoL variable, as well as for each domain of QoL separately. Only exceptionally  (i.e., for the QoL domain of physical health) a reversed indirect effect was revealed, which suggests that mental health problems are more likely to result in offending than vice versa, when considering the indirect GLM route” (p. 291).

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Authored by Megan Banford

Megan Banford is a master’s student in the Forensic Psychology program at John Jay College. She graduated in 2013 from Simon Fraser University with a B.A. (Honors) and hopes complete a PhD in clinical forensic psychology. Her main research interests include violence risk assessment and management, juvenile offenders and public policy.

(Anti)Social Influence on Adolescent Offenders with Psychopathic Traits

Forensic Training AcademySocial environment and antisocial influence of peers may play a role in explaining the impact of psychopathic traits in juveniles. This is the bottom line of a recently published article in Psychology, Public Policy, and Law. Below is a summary of the research and findings as well as a translation of this research into practice.

Featured Article | Psychology, Public Policy, and Law | 2016, Vol. 22, No. 1, 92-104pppl

The Importance of (Anti)Social Influence in Serious Juvenile Offenders With Psychopathic Traits

 

Authors

Joseph R. Tatar II, University of California, Irvine
Caitlin Cavanagh, University of California, Irvine
Elizabeth Cauffman, University of California, Irvine

Abstract

Psychopathy, as it is popularly conceptualized, includes personality features (callousness, lack of remorse or shame, manipulativeness, and pathologic egocentricity) which imply impediments to the formation of traditional social bonds. However, it has been suggested that individuals with psychopathic traits may be affected by their social context, which may fuel their engagement in antisocial activity (Kerr, Van Zalk, & Stattin, 2012; Martens, 2002, 2003). As adolescents are inherently more susceptible to social influences than other developmental stages, it is especially important to understand the role of interpersonal context, particularly among youth with psychopathic traits. This study examines whether psychopathic traits moderate the relation between the antisocial influence of peers, parents, and very important nonparental adults on institutional (both self-report and official records of) offending in a sample of serious juvenile offenders in Southern California. Results indicate that greater exposure to antisocial influence from peers and very important nonparental adults translated to more delinquent behavior among all youth in the current study, but the impact of peer influence on institutional misconduct were particularly pronounced for youth high in psychopathic traits. These findings imply that taking a youth’s social environment into account is paramount when examining the importance of psychopathic traits to adolescent antisocial behavior.

Keywords

psychopathy, juvenile offenders, antisocial influence, antisocial peers, very important nonparental adults

Summary of the Research

“Relative to adults, adolescents differ in their psychosocial maturity and the importance they place on the interpersonal context. Adolescent behavior (particularly antisocial behavior) is greatly affected by interactions with peers, parents, and other adults. Adolescents are also more susceptible than children and adults to social influence from peers and nonparental adults; compared with adults, adolescents are more likely to engage in risky behavior when in the company of their peers. Psychopathic traits must be examined within this developmental context in order to understand how these traits manifest in adolescence” (p. 92)

“Popular conceptualizations of psychopathy include personality features (e.g., callousness, remorselessness, manipulation) that may impede the formation of traditional social bonds. This suggests that individuals with psychopathic traits, due to their tendencies toward interpersonal dominance and lack of concern toward others, may be impervious to the effect of social influence. In other words, individuals with psychopathic traits present a higher baseline risk-state, due to their unwillingness to consider others when engaging in antisocial behavior. However, a contrasting theoretical perspective offered by Martens suggests that interpersonal relationships may play an important role in the emotional experiences and resultant behavior of individuals with psychopathic traits. Martens suggests that interpersonal relationships can indeed affect the situational risk-status of individuals with psychopathic traits by promoting or inhibiting behavior (antisocial or otherwise). However, empirical support for this postulation is limited. The present study examines whether psychopathic traits among serious juvenile offenders affect the relation between the antisocial influence of peers and nonparental adults on institutional offending” (p. 92).

“It is well established that associations with delinquent peers influence youth engagement in antisocial behavior. Peer influence may occur through a transactional process, such that youth’s antisocial behavior is not only influenced by peers, but youth may also affect their peers’ antisocial behavior or seek out youths who are supportive of delinquent behavior. Yet, peer influence alone (beyond selection effects) may also prompt adolescents to engage in antisocial behavior” (p. 93).

“In addition to peers, many adolescents look to nonparental adults for guidance, support, and behavioral modeling (termed VIPs within the literature). VIPs, or natural mentors, are adults with “significant influence” on an adolescent who can be counted on for support. The VIP–adolescent relationship is qualitatively different than other types of social influence; VIPs represent nonjudgmental role models, a combination of both of peer and parental qualities. About 83% of female and 68% of male adolescents report having a VIP in their life, demonstrating that these relationships are a common source of social influence for adolescents” (p. 93).

“In the general population, the story is clear: Adolescence is a developmental period of heightened social influence from peers and VIPs. Because the social context is salient, adolescents are at an increased risk for antisocial behavior when their social environment supports such behavior. Less clear, however, is how this developmental phenomenon can be reconciled with the literature on psychopathy. If the construct of psychopathy can be directly extended downward from adults to adolescents, perhaps social influence has no bearing on adolescents with psychopathic traits (unlike their community counterparts). Conversely, if youth with psychopathic traits are similar to adolescents without these characteristics, perhaps the developmental context renders social influence just as important to both groups of youth. In other words, do adolescents with psychopathic traits behave like adolescents without psychopathic traits in terms of their receptivity to antisocial influence?” (p. 93 – 94).

Present Study

Utilizing a sample of 373 adolescent males between the ages of 14 and 17, “the present study examines whether psychopathic traits moderate the relation between antisocial influence by peers and non-parental adults and lifetime and institutional offending among a sample of incarcerated juvenile offenders” (p. 94). The youth in the current study were incarcerated in a juvenile facility in Southern California and the racial/ethnic composition of the sample was diverse; the majority of these adolescent males were convicted of a violent person offense (70%). The adolescences in this study “participated in a 2-hr baseline interview within 48 hours of their arrival to the facility. Follow-up interviews (90 min each) took place weekly for the subsequent 3 weeks, with a monthly follow-up thereafter. Interviews were conducted in-person at the youth facility by trained graduate and undergraduate students. All research staff involved in the data collection participated in multiple training sessions prior to working on the project” (p. 95).

This study used the Youth Psychopathic Trait Inventory (YPI) to assess psychopathic traits. The Peer Delinquent Behavior Scale was administered to assess the influence of parents, peers, and VIPs’ engagement in and support of antisocial behavior. Lastly, to assess the youth’s involvement in antisocial and/or illegal activities, a modified version of the Self-Report of Offending scale (SRO) was administered. Moreover, since reports of offending behavior were obtained though a self-report measure, the researchers reviewed institutional records from the first two months the youths were incarcerated. These official records were used in combination with the individual’s self-report in hopes of maximizing the validity of the information obtained from the SRO.

Results

“The goal of the present study was to determine whether the relation between social influence (from peers and VIPs) and antisocial behavior varied as a function of youths’ psychopathic traits. The results revealed several key findings. First, the antisocial influence of both peers and VIPs increased adolescent offending behaviors, both prior to incarceration as well as within the facility. Youth exposed to more antisocial influence were more likely to offend, regardless of their degree of psychopathic traits. In most cases, the relation between antisocial influence and offending behavior was not moderated by psychopathic traits. Finally, while the impact of peer antisocial influence appeared to depend on psychopathic traits for self-reported institutional offending, the impact of peer influence was stronger for youth higher in psychopathic traits. In other words, relationships with antisocial peers resulted in more antisocial behavior for youth with higher levels of psychopathic traits compared to youth with lower levels” (p. 100)

“The present study considers multiple antisocial influence styles (behavior vs. direct influence) and multiple sources of influence (peers, parents, and VIPs). Results suggest that a more nuanced understanding of the impact of the interpersonal context on juvenile delinquency is warranted. First, though peers and VIPs can independently influence an adolescent’s offending, parental effects overshadow other interpersonal influences, even when youth do not reside in the home (e.g., while incarcerated). However, when actively surrounded by one’s peers and VIPs (e.g., within the community), the influence of extrafamilial contacts are robust, and outweigh parent effects. Second, the present study revealed different patterns in the way peers and VIPs tend to exert their influence. When considering peer effects, direct attempts to influence a youth’s behavior appear more important than simple exposure to peer antisocial behavior. In other words, the more a youth’s peers actively try to influence him, the more impact peers have on his behavior. In comparison, VIPs tend to have their greatest level of influence on adolescent offending behavior through modeling (e.g., their actual behavior) than through direct attempts to influence a youth” (p. 100).

Translating Research into Practice

“It is important to identify developmental features (in this case, social influence) that may impact engagement in antisocial behavior for youth high in psychopathic traits so that targeted interventions may be applied. Understanding the importance of social relationships is essential when examining the form and function of psychopathic traits during adolescence” (p. 100).

“These findings carry important implications for the conceptualization of psychopathic traits in adolescence, as well as the treatment efforts targeting adolescent offenders. First, the construct of adult psychopathy should not be grafted to adolescence without consideration for the developmental context (in this case, susceptibility to social influence). As the field continues to study and define psychopathic traits and their implications for antisocial behavior in adolescence, it is critical to do so within the scope of the developmental context” (p. 101).

“The observation that the social environment can influence adolescent offenders with psychopathic traits strengthens the assertion that treatment strategies can be successful with this population. Like two sides of a coin, just as antisocial influence may support youths’ engagement in delinquent behavior, prosocial engagement may reduce it. Although our data were not designed to address prosocial influences, exposure to positive social influences may help to reduce delinquent behavior among youth with psychopathic traits. Interventions that address peer networks may be particularly effective with this population. For example, controlling the access of youth high in psychopathic traits to peers and VIPs who represent an antisocial influence may stem youth reoffending. VIPs are a special category of adult mentors; to the extent that adolescents model their behavior after VIP behavior, other adult mentors may positively impact youths’ lives. Specifically, mentorship programs (e.g., Big Brothers/Big Sisters) or counseling sessions could help youth find positive adult role models against whom to model their behavior.

Taken together, our results favor the study of psychopathic traits in adolescents through the lens of the developmental context. The presence of psychopathic traits does not negate the influence of the social environment on youths’ antisocial behavior. Instead, for youth both with and without psychopathic traits, the influence of their peers, parents, and very important nonparental adults can have a strong impact on their behavior. These findings challenge underlying assumptions attached to the psychopathy label with regard to treatment amenability and the subsequent stability of their expressed socioemotional characteristic. In addition, the expression of psychopathic traits may be less stable among youth than among adults in part because of youths’ heightened susceptibility to social forces relative to adults. As such, taking a youth’s social environment into account is critical when examining the psychopathic traits and adolescent behavior” (p. 101).

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Authored By Amanda Beltrani

Amanda Beltrani is a current graduate student in the Forensic Psychology Masters program at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York. Her professional interests include forensic assessments, specifically, criminal matter evaluations. Amanda plans to continue her studies in a doctoral program after completion of her Masters degree.

 

Juvenile Offenders with Subclinical Depression Display Similar Delinquent Behaviors as those Diagnosed with Major Depression

Forensic Training AcademyStructured clinical interviews show an increased level of aggression, substance use, and suicidal behavior among juvenile offenders with subclinical depression. This is the bottom line of a recently published article in Law and Human Behavior. Below is a summary of the research and findings as well as a translation of this research into practice.

Law and Human BehaviorFeatured Article | Law and Human Behavior| 2015, Vol. 39, No. 6, 593-601

Aggression, Substance Use Disorder, and Presence of a Prior Suicide Attempt among Juvenile Offenders with Subclinical Depression

Authors

Tamara Kang, The University of Texas at El Paso
Jennifer Eno Louden, The University of Texas at El Paso
Elijah P. Ricks, The University of Texas at El Paso
Rachel L. Jones, The University of Texas at El Paso

Abstract

Juvenile justice agencies often use the presence of a Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) diagnosis as a criterion for offenders’ eligibility for mental health treatment. However, relying on diagnoses to sort offenders into discrete categories ignores subclinical disorders—impairment that falls below the threshold of DSM criteria. The current study used structured clinical interviews with 489 juvenile offenders to examine aggression, presence of a prior suicide attempt, and substance use disorders among juvenile offenders with subclinical depression compared with juvenile offenders with major depression or no mood disorder. Analyses demonstrated that juvenile offenders with subclinical depression reported significantly more aggression, abuse of substances, and the presence of a prior suicide attempt compared to juvenile offenders with no mood disorder, but did not differ significantly on aggression and substance abuse compared with juvenile offenders with major depression. These results have implications for correctional agencies’ policies through which offenders are offered mental health treatment, and provide a first step in identifying early signs of problematic behavior before it worsens. Specifically, the results support the notion that depressive disorders should be viewed along a continuum when determining how to allocate services.

Keywords

aggression, juvenile offenders, subclinical depression, substance abuse, suicide

Summary of the Research

“In response to growing awareness of the high rates of serious mental disorders (e.g., major depression and bipolar disorder) in criminal justice settings when compared with the general population, many juvenile justice agencies have developed, are considering, or are planning to use specialty services to reduce reoffending among juvenile offenders with severe mental illnesses. Specialty services include mental health courts and specialized probation caseloads, which have demonstrated efficacy at preventing recidivism. However, because access to community treatment providers is often limited, specialized mental health courts for juveniles often have eligibility requirements based on whether the offender has a diagnosable serious mental disorder” (p. 593).

The current diagnostic system overlooks individuals with subclinical depression—those who experience some symptoms of major depression and have impairment in their daily lives, but the duration, severity, or number of symptoms does not meet the threshold to warrant a formal diagnosis. For example, a juvenile who does not present with five symptoms for most of day nearly everyday for at least two weeks, however severe, would not be diagnosed with major depression according to the DSM–IV–TR or DSM–5” (p. 594).

“Delinquency, a general term for minor crime, misbehavior, disruptive behavior problems, and wrongdoing, appears to interact with major depression among adolescents because of a shared diathesis. The irritability from major depression seems to exacerbate the already high levels of aggression found in many delinquent adolescents in the community, which increases the likelihood of continued delinquency, and violence… Juvenile offenders with subclinical depression likely have many of the same problematic behaviors as juvenile offenders with major depression, but lack the minimum number of symptoms needed for a diagnosis, and are typically ineligible for specialized services. The lack of treatment for subclinical depression may increase the likelihood that the juvenile offender’s delinquency, suicidal ideation, and substance use progress to clinical levels and result in future rearrest” (p.594).

To examine the distinction between delinquent behaviors associated with major clinical depression versus subclinical depression, the present study compared juvenile offenders with a diagnosis of major depression and juvenile offenders with no mood disorder diagnosis.

“Data were derived from routine intake procedures at a juvenile probation agency, where juvenile offenders received a comprehensive semistructured mental health assessment. The semistructured interview yielded diagnoses based on DSM–IV–TR criteria. As  described later, the information from these interviews was used to sort juvenile offenders into three categories based on the absence or presence of symptoms and/or the duration and severity of the symptoms of major depression the juveniles endorsed” (p.595). The three groups were: no symptom present, presence of a symptom that did not meet full criteria, and presence of a symptom that met full criteria. Both past and present symptoms were placed into a single category of “lifetime occurrence” (p.595). A total of 489 juvenile offenders from a juvenile probation agency in the Southwestern U.S. were interviewed by master or doctoral students using the Kiddie Schedule for Affective Disorders and Schizophrenia (K-SADS) over a 20-month period.

Results

“Juvenile offenders with subclinical depression tended to report behaviors that were similar to juvenile offenders with major depression, and reported higher rates of prior suicide attempts, greater amounts of aggression, and greater rates of substance use disorder than did juvenile offenders with no mood disorder. It appears that juvenile offenders with subclinical depression experience considerable impairment that is similar to that experienced by juvenile offenders with major depression, even without meeting diagnostic criteria for a mental disorder.” (p.597).

“Recidivism risk is complicated to predict, and prior research suggests that the combination of disruptive disorders (e.g., symptoms include initiating physical fights, bullying, aggressively stealing, etc.) and substance use is even more predictive of rearrest than either component alone. Affective disorders on their own do not predict recidivism, but when combined with both disruptive behavior and substance use, the odds of recidivism are more than 2 times more likely than the odds of reoffending for juvenile offenders with no disorder. The present study supports the notion that juvenile offenders with subclinical depression are a special subgroup that may be at a higher risk of reoffending and substance use issues even though they do not have enough symptoms of depression to warrant a diagnosis” (p. 598).

“Juvenile offenders with mental health symptomology, even without meeting criteria for a DSM diagnosis, may be at a disproportionate risk of recidivism and become more deeply embedded in the criminal justice system” (p.598).

Translating Research into Practice

The authors argued against the categorical use of a DSM diagnosis of major depression as the primary determinant for mental health treatment among juvenile offenders. Instead, juvenile offenders should be diverted from the juvenile justice system and assessed for mental health needs.

The use of the Risk-Need-Responsivity (RNR) model for offender populations addresses mental illness under the responsivity model during treatment planning. “When mental illness is addressed during treatment planning, it appears that the offender has a higher likelihood of successfully abstaining from crime, as mental illness is a barrier to effective rehabilitation for criminal behavior” (p.598). If juveniles with subclinical depression are diverted away from the juvenile justice system and receive adequate mental health treatment via the RNR model, they may have a better chance of desisting from future criminal behavior.

“The present study highlights the need for juvenile justice agencies to screen all juveniles for suicidal risk and mental health symptoms…In addition, correctional staff should be educated on the symptoms that overlap and co-occur so that they can better identify the youth who are in need of services, in need of more intensive interventions, or are at a high risk for future delinquency” (p.599).

Juvenile offenders with subclinical depression are a potential high-risk group for delinquent behavior and thus warrant the necessary mental health care, whether or not they have a diagnosis of major depression.

Other Interesting Tidbits for Researchers and Clinicians

Although these findings suggest juveniles with subclinical depression are similar with those diagnosed with major depression in terms of treatment need, “only a small proportion of juveniles with major depression were represented in the sample (8.0% had major depression), whereas juvenile offenders with no mood disorder were overrepresented in the sample” (p.598). Additionally, the study consisted of mainly Latino participants and collapsed past and present symptoms of major depression, aggression, substance use, and suicidality into one single category. Future research may want to address these limitations to both replicate the findings and note any differences in outcomes for other, non-Hispanic ethnicities or when symptom presentation is coded differently.

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Authored by Sara Hartigan

6Sara Hartigan is a second year Forensic Psychology Master’s student at John Jay and hope to obtain a Ph.D. in Clinical Forensic Psychology in the future. My main areas of interest include clinical evaluations and developing treatment interventions within the forensic population.

Gender Differences Apparent in the Use and Interpretation of the SAVRY for Juvenile Offenders

Forensic-Training-AcademyGender plays a role in the association between the risk/need and protective factors on the SAVRY and risk of violence. This is the bottom line of a recently published article in Law and Human Behavior. Below is a summary of the research and findings as well as a translation of this research into practice.

 

Featured Article| Law and Human Behavior | 2015, 1-15lhb

 

Identifying Gender Specific Risk/Need Areas for Male and Female Juvenile Offenders: Factor Analyses with the Structured Assessment of Violence Risk in Youth (SAVRY)

Authors

Ed. L. B. Hilterman, Tigburg University and Justa Mesura, Consultancy & Applied Research, Barcelona, Spain
Ilja Bongers, GGzE Center for Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, Netherlands, and Tigburg University
Tonia. L. Nicholls, University of British Columbia and Simon Frasier University
Chijs van Nieuwenhuizen, Tilburg University and GGzE Center tor Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, Eindhoven, The Netherlands

Abstract

By constructing risk assessment tools in which the individual items are organized in the same way for male and female juvenile offenders it is assumed that these items and subscales have similar relevance across males and females. The identification of criminogenic needs that vary in relevance for 1 of the genders, could contribute to more meaningful risk assessments, especially for female juvenile offenders. In this study, exploratory factor analyses (EFA) on a construction sample of male (n = 3,130) and female (n = 466) juvenile offenders were used to aggregate the 30 items of the Structured Assessment of Violence Risk in Youth (SAVRY) into empirically based risk/need factors and explore differences between genders. The factor models were cross-validated through confirmatory factor analyses (CFA) on a validation sample of male (n = 2,076) and female (n = 357) juvenile offenders. In both the construction sample and the validation sample, 5 factors were identified: (a) Antisocial behavior; (b) Family functioning; (c) Personality traits; (d) Social support; and (e) Treatability. The male and female models were significantly different and the internal consistency of the factors was good, both in the construction sample and the validation sample. Clustering risk/need items for male and female juvenile offenders into meaningful factors may guide clinicians in the identification of gender-specific treatment interventions.

Keywords

juvenile offenders, gender differences, factor analysis, risk management, violence risk assessment

Summary of the Research

“In recent decades research has demonstrated differences in risk factors between male and female juvenile offenders. For instance, risk factors related to family and social relationships have been found to be more important for female adolescents than for male adolescents (Cauffman, 2008; Fields & Abrams, 2010; Zahn et al., 2008). Compared with male juvenile offenders, female juvenile offenders also have a higher likelihood of exhibiting more mental health problems (Grande et al., 2012; Marston, Russell, Obsuth, & Watson, 2012). Further, according to Funk (1999), the presence of antisocial peers is more important for male juvenile offenders than for female adolescents. Factor analytic studies on risk assessment tools can provide information on differences in relevance of risk and protective factors between groups, for example genders. However, research on the psychometric structure of risk assessment tools for adolescents is scarce, especially regarding gender differences” (p.2).

Professionals in the Catalonian Justice Department in Catalonia, Spain were trained to administer the SAVRY to juveniles from 2006 until 2008. Interrater reliability for accuracy was excellent. Each assessment was given twice throughout the duration of the offenders stay in the juvenile sector. The following 5-factor model was assessed: antisocial behavior, family functioning, personality, social support, and treatability. Construction and validation samples were also used to support the 5-factor model.

“In the first step, we examined which factors could be found in the risk and protective items of the SAVRY that refer to gender specific risk/need areas. In the second step, the fit of the factor models for both male and female juvenile offenders was evaluated in validation samples and subsequently the difference between the models for both genders was measured. In the third step, we explored whether the found solutions could be accounted for by one underlying second-order construct. Finally, we analyzed the internal consistency of the different factors” (p.2).

Results

“The inclusion of Poor School Achievement and Community Disorganization in the Antisocial Behavior factor for female, but not for male offenders, suggests that female offenders have more acting out behavior in familiar environments like school or their neighborhood. This could be related to findings that female adolescents are more likely to be involved in relational or social aggression (Herrman & Silverstein, 2012; Miller, Winn, Taylor, & Wiki, 2012; Zahn et al., 2008; that may take place in familiar settings like school, the neighborhood, and the family) than in direct aggression, while males tend to be more involved in direct aggression toward strangers (Card, Stucky, Sawalani, & Little, 2008; Herrman & Silverstein, 2012; Skara et al., 2008; Zahn et al., 2008). The inclusion of the Community Disorganization item in the Antisocial Behavior factor could also indicate that violent and delinquent behavior among female adolescents was, compared with male juveniles, closer to their living environment (Kling, Ludwig, & Katz, 2005). Our results are consistent with research that indicates that female juvenile offenders benefit more, compared with male adolescents, from programs like “Move to Opportunity” in which their families are moved to safer neighborhoods (Clampet-Lundquist, Edin, Kling, & Duncan, 2011; Kling et al., 2005)” (p.10).

“For both males and females, Factor 2, Family Functioning, refers to a history of dysfunctional family relations. The inclusion, for female offenders, of current poor parental management in the Family Functioning factor also suggests that the association between a dysfunctional family history and poor supervision and harsh or inconsistent discipline by caregivers could be stronger for females than for males” (p.11).

The authors also found that female juvenile offenders with behavioral problems were associated with substance abuse and self-harm. Treatability and Social Support also differed based on gender wherein female mental health needs were mostly related to treatment compliance, but male treatment compliance was associated with the absence of protective factors.

Translating Research into Practice

“The clinical interpretation of the gender specific factors found in this study may also suggest different strategies to reduce recidivism risk for male and female juvenile offenders. This is a potentially promising development since there are indications that traditional treatment interventions designed on the basis of risk management tools for male juvenile offenders are less effective for female juvenile offenders (Miller, Leve, & Kerig, 2012; Vitopoulos et al., 2012). Based on these findings, it is recommended that risk assessment tools like the SAVRY provide specific information regarding gender specific effects of risk and protective factors. By doing so, it could be easier for assessors to decide which items are more relevant for female or male offenders, interpret gender specific differences, and adjust risk reduction strategies accordingly” (p.11)

“For a future version of SAVRY it would be important to consider the inclusion of additional protective factors (e.g., positive future orientation, positive relationships with parents and peers, and prosocial romantic relationships, which could be especially relevant for female offenders; Oudekerk & Reppucci, 2010) as a means of improving balanced assessment and treatment planning (see also de Vries Robbé et al., 2015; Viljoen et al., 2014). In addition, coding the protective items on a three-point scale, instead of dichotomously, would offer the advantage of more flexibility in scoring, which would make the tool more dynamic and more prone to measure change over time” (p.12).

“The separate risk/need assessment models for male and female juvenile offenders, and/or the inclusion of empirically based information on specific gender effects of risk and protective items may guide clinicians in the identification of gender-specific treatment needs; this is essential information to inform the debate regarding the necessity of gender-specific treatment interventions” (p.12).

As the authors have suggested, identifying gender differences on the SAVRY can aid professionals in understanding both the motivations behind juvenile criminal behavior and the resulting risk associated with violence. It can also be helpful in developing programs and treatments necessary to target gender specific risk needs and reduce recidivism.

Other Interesting Tidbits for Researchers and Clinicians

“Future research that evaluates field implementations by comparing and contrasting research-based SAVRY assessments and clinical SAVRY assessments (e.g., looking at agreement by different categories of assessors; testing predictive accuracy) would be able to address some of these gaps in knowledge. Second, the generalizability of the results to non-Spanish populations of juvenile offenders is limited and this study needs to be replicated in other cultural settings in, for instance, other European countries, North America and Latin America. Finally, although the sample contained a large proportion of immigrants (male: 43.2%; female: 20.8%), replication in ethnic and cultural minorities would be important to gain more insight into risk and protective factors important to diverse populations” (p.12)

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Authored by: Sarah Hartigan

6Sara Hartigan is a second year Forensic Psychology Master’s student at John Jay and hope to obtain a Ph.D. in Clinical Forensic Psychology in the future. My main areas of interest include clinical evaluations and developing treatment interventions within the forensic population.

Shame and Guilt are Important to the Understanding of Psychopathy and Psychopathology in Juveniles

Forensic-Training-AcademyFor juveniles, shame is positively related to psychopathic behaviors while guilt is negatively related to psychopathic characteristics. This is the bottom line of a recently published article in Law and Human Behavior. Below is a summary of the research and findings as well as a translation of this research into practice.

Featured Article | Law and Human Behavior | 2015, Vol. 39, No. 5, 451-462lhb

Remorse, Psychopathology, and Psychopathy Among Adolescent Offenders

Authors

Andrew Spice, Jodi L. Viljoen, Kevin S. Douglas, and Stephen D. Hart, Simon Fraser University

Abstract

Remorse has long been important to the juvenile justice system. However, the nature of this construct has not yet been clearly articulated, and little research has examined its relationships with other theoretically and forensically relevant variables. The present study was intended to address these issues by examining relationships among remorse, psychopathology, and psychopathy in a sample of adolescent offenders (N = 97) using the theoretically and empirically established framework of guilt and shame (Tangney & Dearing, 2002). Findings indicated that shame was positively related to behavioral features of psychopathy, whereas guilt was negatively related to psychopathic characteristics more broadly. In addition, shame was positively associated with numerous mental health problems whereas guilt was negatively associated with anger, depression, and anxiety. These results provide empirical support for theory that psychopathy is characterized by lack of remorse (e.g., Hare, 1991), and also underscore shame and guilt as potentially important treatment targets for adolescent offenders.

Keywords

remorse, psychopathy, adolescent offenders

Summary of the Research

“The construct of remorse has played a long-standing role in the juvenile justice system. Remorse is emphasized in Canadian and United States case law, legal scholarship and theory, and forensic psychological assessment instruments. Despite the apparent importance of this construct for justice-involved youth, however, little research has investigated its relationships with other theoretically related and forensically relevant constructs. The purpose of the present study was to examine the relationship of remorse with psychopathic characteristics and psychopathology among adolescent offenders.” (p. 391)

Remorse was conceptualized as guilt, shame, or a combination of both because an understanding of those concepts may provide a clearer picture of remorse, particularly in the context of psychopathy and psychopathology in juvenile offenders. These two constructs were tested with the Test of Self-Conscious Affect (TOSCA-A) and Offence-Related Shame and Guilt Scale (ORSGS). The TOSCA-A assesses guilt and shame through a series of 15 hypothetical scenarios that are unrelated to offending. The participant rates guilt and shame for each scenario on a 5-point Likert scale based on their own reactions to the scenarios. The ORSGS assesses guilt and shame based on previous criminal behavior. This tool uses 16 items on a 7-point Likert scale. The Massachusetts Youth Screening Instrument-2 (MAYSI-2) was used as a self-report tool to assess mental health for juveniles involved in the criminal justice system. The tool consists of 52 items with dichotomous answers of yes and no. The Psychopathic Checklist: Youth Version (PCL; YV) was used to assess psychopathic traits in juveniles. The tool consists of 20 items scored on a 3-point scale by a trained rater.

The main hypotheses of the study predicted a negative relationship between guilt and psychopathic traits and a positive relationship between shame and antisocial and behavioral aspects of psychopathy. Juveniles (n=97) were recruited from 11 probation offices in Canada. Data collection focused on structured interviews, self-report measures, and a review of probation files by trained research assistants.

“The present study was intended to investigate the relationship of guilt and shame with psychopathology and psychopathic characteristics among adolescent offenders. We strove to improve upon limitations of prior literature pertaining to remorse by addressing these questions using the theoretically and empirically established framework of guilt and shame. Our findings indicated that (a) shame was positively related to the behavioral features of psychopathy whereas guilt was negatively related to psychopathic characteristics more broadly, (b) shame was related to numerous mental health problems whereas guilt was negatively related to several of these problems, and (c) older youth evidenced lower levels of offense-related shame. Moreover, all associations held true after controlling for youths’ offense histories” (p. 457).

“With regard to mental health difficulties, present findings indicated that shame was positively associated with numerous forms of psychopathology, including depression, anxiety, suicide ideation, and somatic complaints. These results further underscore the harmful nature of shame, and suggest that its relationship with psychopathology as observed among noncriminal adults may generalize to an adolescent offender population. Given that the central features of shame are worthlessness, powerlessness, and a sense of a defective self, it is perhaps not surprising that this emotion is related to a range of pathological symptoms in youth just as it is in adults (p. 459).

“Guilt, on the other hand, was negatively related to anger, depression, and anxiety…Guilt is associated with acceptance of responsibility and constructive intentions, which are generally incompatible with the externalization of blame and destructive urges that can often accompany anger. Accordingly, our findings emphasize that guilt may be helpful in regulating anger among adolescent offenders” (p. 459).

Translating Research into Practice

“To our knowledge, this is the first study to empirically examined the long-held theoretical assertion that psychopathy is associated with a lack of guilt. In turn, these results provide empirical support for that aspect of psychopathy theory and also for the validity of the TOSCA-A and ORSGS. The consistency of our findings across both measures (i.e., general guilt vs. offense related guilt) is also in accordance with the notion that psychopathy involves general affective deficits across multiple domains.” (p. 458)

“Given high rates of mental disorder among adolescent offenders and present findings that shame is linked to numerous psychological symptoms, clinicians who assess and treat adolescent offenders may wish to place increased focus on shame. Assessment procedures, for instance, could include administration of the TOSCA-A and the ORSGS, which take relatively little time to administer and score. Using these measures rather than solely asking youths if they feel guilty or shameful may circumvent concerns that adolescents may falsely claim to experience these emotions to create a favorable impression for the evaluator” (p.459).

“In the case of intervention, shame-targeted protocols such as those included in dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) may be helpful. These procedures are effective in reducing shame among adult women with borderline personality disorder, and DBT as a complete treatment is effective for youth. Additional research is needed to determine whether such strategies are helpful for adolescent offenders” (p.460).

“Our findings also suggest that guilt, being negatively associated with psychopathology, may useful to encourage… A helpful alternative may be interventions that focus on building awareness and understanding of guilt, such as those in DBT. Such interventions may be especially relevant for youth high in psychopathic characteristics in light of present findings suggesting that these youth have consistent deficits in guilt across multiple domains” (p. 460).

Other Interesting Tidbits for Researchers and Clinicians

“The present findings did indicate that older youth were less likely to feel offense-related shame. Given that no mental health problems or psychopathic characteristics appeared to account for this association, it is possible that this finding represents adaptation to current circumstances (e.g., coping well with the emotional effects of an offense). Further research on age, shame, and resilience may clarify this possibility.” (p. 459)

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Authored by: Amanda Reed and Andrea Patrick

amanda-headshotsAmanda L. Reed is a first year student in John Jay College of Criminal Justice’s clinical psychology doctoral program. She is the Lab Coordinator for the Forensic Training Academy. Amanda received her Bachelor’s degree in psychology from Wellesley College and a Master’s degree in Forensic Psychology from John Jay College of Criminal Justice. Her research interests include evaluator bias and training in forensic evaluation.

 

5Andrea Patrick is completing her M.A. in Forensic Psychology at John Jay College of Criminal Justice. In the future, she hopes to be directly working with forensic populations providing risk assessments, clinical evaluations as well as conducting research within the field.

CPORT shows Predictive Accuracy for Sexual Recidivism among Adult Male Child Pornography Offenders

Forensic-Training-AcademyThe Child Pornography Offender Risk Tool (CPORT) was significantly associated with sexual recidivism, demonstrating moderate predictive accuracy for adult male child pornography offenders. This is the bottom line of a recently published article in Law and Human Behavior. Below is a summary of the research and findings as well as a translation of this research into practice.

 

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Featured Article | Law & Human Behavior | 2015, Vol. 39, No. 4, 416-429

 

Predicting Recidivism Among Adult Male Child Pornography Offenders: Development of the Child Pornography Offender Risk Tool (CPORT)

Authors

Michael C. Seto, Royal Ottawa Health Care Group, Brockville, Ontario, Canada
Angela W. Eke, Ontario Provincial Police, Orilla, Ontario, Canada

Abstract

In this study, we developed a structured risk checklist, the Child Pornography Offender Risk Tool (CPORT), to predict any sexual recidivism among adult male offenders with a conviction for child pornography offenses. We identified predictors of sexual recidivism using a 5-year fixed follow-up analysis from a police case file sample of 266 adult male child pornography offenders in the community after their index offense. In our 5-year follow-up, 29% committed a new offense, and 11% committed a new sexual offense, with 3% committing a new contact sexual offense against a child and 9% committing a new child pornography offense. The CPORT items comprised younger offender age, any prior criminal history, any contact sexual offending, any failure on conditional release, indication of sexual interest in child pornography material or prepubescent or pubescent children, more boy than girl content in child pornography, and more boy than girl content in other child depictions. The CPORT was significantly associated with any sexual recidivism, with moderate predictive accuracy, and thus has promise in the risk assessment of adult male child pornography offenders with further cross-validation.

Keywords

child pornography offenders, recidivism, risk assessment

Summary of the Research

A five-year follow-up analysis of 266 adult male child pornography offenders was conducted to identify predictors of sexual recidivism. Variables of interest included demographic variables, index charges and convictions, criminal history, child pornography content, child pornography collecting behavior, substance use, disclosed sexual interest in children, other paraphilic interests, and overall pornography type and amount.

“To conduct this study, [researchers] coded data from the investigation files of convicted child pornography offenders. Drawing from past research on the risk factors for contact sexual offending against children, [they] hypothesized that child pornography offenders who scored higher on variables reflecting antisociality (specifically, criminal history, conditional release failure, and substance misuse), pedophilia or other paraphilic interests (specifically, self- reported sexual interest in children and child pornography content depicting prepubescent children rather than pubescent or adolescent minors), or opportunity (specifically, residing or working with children and having specific contact information about children) would be more likely to sexually reoffend. [They] then examined whether predictors of sexual recidivism identified in univariate analyses could be combined in a structured checklist for clinical and criminal justice decision makers” (p. 417).

The Child Pornography Offender Risk Tool (CPORT) was created by examining variables conceptually similar to established risk items from the Static-99, the SORAG, and previous research with child pornography offenders. Univariate analyses were used to combine variables that would be easy to code. Seven items were used: “(a) offender age at time of the index investigation, coded as higher risk if age 35 or younger (49% of the sample were higher risk); (b) any prior criminal history, coded as higher risk if yes (41% were higher risk); (c) any prior or index contact sexual offense history, coded as higher risk if yes (18% were higher risk); (d) any prior or index failure on conditional release such as probation, parole, or conditional release, coded as higher risk if yes (15% were higher risk); (e) indication of pedophilic or hebephilic interests, coded as higher risk if yes (40% were higher risk); (f) ratio of boy to girl content in child pornography, coded as higher risk if there was more (51%) content depicting boys (15% were higher risk); and (g) ratio of boy to girl content in nudity and other child content, coded as higher risk if there was more content depicting boys (16% were higher risk)” (p. 423).

Each of the 7 items was scored as 0 or 1 and then items were summed. Total “CPORT score was a significant predictor of any recidivism, any sexual recidivism, and specifically contact sexual recidivism” (p. 423). “The CPORT did not significantly predict sexual recidivism in the subgroup of offenders with only child pornography offenses but did significantly predict sexual recidivism among child pornography offenders with other offending in their history or with contact sexual offending histories” (pp. 423-424).

Translating Research into Practice

“Combining seven significant predictors of sexual recidivism, [researchers] were able to create a structured checklist that significantly predicted any sexual recidivism or specifically contact sexual recidivism at a level similar to the accuracies obtained by risk scales developed for contact sex offenders, such as the Static-99. This tool was not predictive for offenders only known to have child pornography offenses, which [the researchers] attribute to the low base rate of sexual recidivism in this subgroup for the 5-year follow-up (6% compared with 12% for child pornography offenders with nonviolent or nonsexually violent offending histories or 23% for child pornography offenders with contact sexual offending histories), resulting in low statistical power to detect an association.

Although [these researchers] report probability estimates for this development sample, cross-validation of the CPORT is needed to assess its use as an actuarial measure for child pornography offender sexual recidivism. Also, further validation with larger, independent samples and longer follow-up times could evaluate the generalizability of the CPORT or suggest improvements. The low base rates of sexual recidivism, especially contact sexual recidivism, found for child pornography–only offenders suggests that it would be difficult to validate a risk-assessment tool for this specific population. As with other sex offenders, treatment and supervision of child pornography offenders should be based on a comprehensive assessment of risk and other considerations (e.g., access to children) for each individual. Child pornography offenders with antisocial characteristics, emotional congruence or identification with children, or ideas supportive of sex with children may be considered in greater need with regard to risk management and treatment priorities.

Though more work is needed to cross-validate risk factors identified in this research and to examine other risk factor candidates not included in the current study, [these researchers] believe the CPORT can be useful in the structured risk assessment of adult male child pornography offenders as a preferable alternative to unstructured risk judgments. Actuarial use of the CPORT involving application of the recidivism probabilities reported here is not recommended without further cross-validation” (p. 427).

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Authored by: Andrea PatrickDarkBlue-Forensic-Training-AcademyPatrickAndrea

Andrea Patrick is completing her M.A. in Forensic Psychology at John Jay College of Criminal Justice. In the future, she hopes to be directly working with forensic populations providing risk assessments, clinical evaluations as well as conducting research within the field.

Abuse History Used as an Aggravating Factor in Support for Juvenile Sex Offender Registration

DarkBlue-Forensic-Training-AcademyPerceptions of abuse history mitigate support for juvenile sex offender registration in the abstract, yet are viewed as aggravating factors when considering both severe and less severe specific cases. This is the bottom line of a recently published article in Psychology, Public Policy and Law. Below is a summary of the research and findings as well as a translation of this research into practice.

Featured Article | Psychology, Public Policy, and Law | 2015, Vol. 21, No. 1, 35-49.

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The Influence of a Juvenile’s Abuse History on Support for Sex Offender Registration

Authors:

Margaret C. Stevenson, The University of Evansville
Cynthia J. Najdowski, University at Albany, State University of New York
Jessica M. Salerno, Arizona State University
Tisha R. A. Wiley, National Institute on Drug Abuse, Rockville, Maryland
Bette L. Bottoms, The University of Illinois at Chicago
Katlyn S. Farnum, The University of Nebraska

Abstract

We investigated whether and how a juvenile’s history of experiencing sexual abuse affects public perceptions of juvenile sex offenders in a series of 5 studies. When asked about juvenile sex offenders in an abstract manner (Studies 1 and 2), the more participants (community members and undergraduates) believed that a history of being sexually abused as a child causes later sexually abusive behavior, the less likely they were to support sex offender registration for juveniles. Yet when participants considered specific sexual offenses, a juvenile’s history of sexual abuse was not considered to be a mitigating factor. This was true when participants considered a severe sexual offense (forced rape; Study 3 and Study 4) and a case involving less severe sexual offenses (i.e., statutory rape), when a juvenile’s history of sexual abuse backfired and was used as an aggravating factor, increasing support for registering the offender (Study 3 and Study 5). Theoretical and practical implications of these results are discussed.

Keywords: Child sexual abuse, juvenile sex offending, legal decision making, attributions, public policy

Summary of the Research

The authors conducted 5 studies investigating public perception of juvenile sex offenders’ history of sexual abuse. Studies 1 and 2 examined “people’s estimates of the prevalence of sexual abuse among juvenile sex offenders, and whether they believe such abuse explains why juveniles commit sex offenses. This study also tested whether such beliefs would relate to decreased or increased support for applying registry laws to juvenile sex offenders” (p. 37). “In Study 3, [they] tested the extent to which beliefs that sexual abuse leads to sex offending influence registration support for juvenile sex offenders in specific cases (i.e., forced rape, statutory rape, harassment, and sexting)” (p. 40). “To conclude this with more certainty about causality, [they] conducted a direct experimental test to understand how a juvenile’s history of sexual abuse influences registration support in a forced rape case (Study 4) and separately in a statutory rape case (Study 5)” (p. 43).

“As expected, when asked about juvenile sex offenders generally, participants greatly overestimated the prevalence of a history of sexual abuse among juvenile sex offenders— both when asked to report their spontaneous thoughts about why juveniles commit sex offenses and when asked directly about sexual abuse. Further, the more participants attributed sex offending to past abuse, the less they supported policies that juveniles to register as sex offenders” (p. 45)

“Study 3 showed that public support for sex offender registration varies depending on whether individuals are asked about juveniles in general or about specific juveniles accused of different crimes ranging in severity. The more participants thought that a juvenile’s history of being sexually abused led him to perpetrate forced rape, the less supported registering the juvenile as a sex offender. These results support the idea that laypeople naturally think about heinous crimes when they are asked about sex offenders in general. In contrast, the more participants thought that a history of sexual abuse led juveniles to perpetrate less severe offenses (i.e., statutory rape, harassment, and sexting), the more they supported registering the juvenile as a sex offender. Although some studies have that child sexual abuse mitigates reactions toward juveniles accused of nonsexual offenses, our results suggest that people sometimes use beliefs about a history of sexual abuse as an aggravating factor when determining whether juveniles should register as sex offenders for committing less severe sex offenses” (p. 43).

“When a history of sexual abuse was experimentally manipulated, abuse history was consistently used as an aggravating factor in a less severe statutory rape case, and was ignored entirely in a severe forced rape case.

In conclusion, “abuse history mitigates support for juvenile sex offender registration. Yet, for nonprototypical, serious sex crimes, a different trend emerges, in large part due to the malleability of the perceived seriousness of the sexual offense—malleability that does not exist for extremely serious types of sexual offenses. Specifically, less severe sex crimes (i.e., statutory rape) are more likely to be perceived as true crimes when the juvenile has a history of sexual abuse and, in turn, participants use a juvenile’s sexual abuse history as evidence that he is permanently damaged, a danger to society, and deserving of registration.” (p. 46).

Translating Research into Practice

“Most people inaccurately assume juvenile sex offenders have been abused. Moreover, normative and consensual adolescent sexual activity is particularly criminalized when people assume that the adolescent is engaging in sexual activity because of his own history of abuse. Such findings have implications with respect to the fairness of registration policies, particularly because most juvenile sex offenders have not been sexually abused” (p. 46)

“To the extent that judges are allowed judicial discretion in applying registration policies to adolescents, the present research suggests that juvenile registration is likely to be applied capriciously and affect certain groups more than others” (p. 46)

“This research also has implications for sentencing. Sexual abuse history, presumed by the law to be a mitigating factor is at best frequently discounted, especially in severe cases, and at worst, even backfires in lenient cases, being used against juvenile sex offenders as an aggravating factor, as are other factors such as drug abuse, alcohol abuse, and child physical abuse. This finding is likely to be of interest to trial attorneys who must attempt to anticipate the factors that jurors will consider aggravating versus mitigating” (p. 46)

“Courts and policymakers should be encouraged to implement legal instructions and policies designed to encourage legal decision makers explicitly to be sensitive to a juvenile offender’s history of abuse, to educate them about the actual consequences of being abused, and to admonish them against using a history of abuse against a juvenile offender. It may be prudent for legal decision makers to provide rehabilitative resources and mental health services to juvenile sex offenders who commit these less severe offenses, particularly those with histories of child sexual abuse, instead of resorting to potentially harmful sex offender registration” (p. 46)

“Given that participants greatly overestimate the prevalence of a history of sexual abuse among juvenile sex offenders, and that this belief can lead to more severe treatment of juvenile sex offenders, another policy implication is to educate legal decision makers about actual prevalence rates of abuse histories among juvenile sex offenders. Policy-focused educators should take precautions when teaching this information and be careful to correct such mistakes in logic—mistakes that have the potential to result in discriminatory treatment of sexually abused juveniles” (p. 46)

Other Interesting Tidbits for Researchers and Clinicians

“Participants were more supportive of registering an abused versus a non-abused juvenile who committed statutory rape, even though they believed the abused juvenile was less able to control his behavior—an attribution that both the present and past research shows predicts leniency in case judgments. The present research demonstrates an interesting instance in which fear of recidivism (i.e., utilitarian goals of punishment) overrides the leniency that would otherwise be produced by uncontrollable attributions, and instead results in severe case judgments.” (p. 45)

“Abuse history predicted support for the full application of the registry, but not registration support. It is possible that the registration support variable triggers retributive goals of punishment because its wording refers to the severity of registration (i.e., “Public registration laws are too severe for juvenile sex offenders like David”). In contrast, the question assessing support for the full application of the registry does not require participants to consider the punitive severity of registration. Instead, participants are merely asked to recommend one of various registration options (i.e., no registration; registration, but without the juvenile’s information posted online; etc.) without making a value judgment about those options” (p. 45)

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Authored By Megan Banford

Forensic-Training-AcademyBanfordMegan-picMegan is a graduate student in the Forensic Psychology program at John Jay College. She graduated in 2013 from Simon Fraser University with a B.A. (Honors) and hopes to attain her PhD in clinical forensic psychology. Her main research interests include violence risk assessment and management, juvenile offenders and public policy.

 

Join us for Summer Training Institute

Join us for Summer Training Institute at John Jay College, June 1st -5th. You will engage in in-person workshops with internationally recognized experts, prolific authors, and engaging presenters.  Below are highlights of two workshops that will be offered during Summer Training Institute. The 5 day Foundations of Violence Risk Assessment workshop goes from June 1st thru 5th.  The Assessment of Risk for Violence using HCR-20-V3 is the first two days of that workshop – offered as a stand alone. For full information on all workshops available, visit our Summer Training Institute page. We hope to see you there!

 

5-Day Foundations of Violence Risk Assessment and Management Workshop

Instructors: Dr. Stephen Hart, Dr. Kevin Douglas and Dr. Laura Guy

June 1st – 5th

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program102-Day Assessment of Risk for Violence using the HCR-20-V3

Instructors: Dr. Stephen Hart, Dr. Kevin Douglas and Dr. Laura Guy

June 1st – 2nd

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Separate Housing for Adult Court Youth an Unfounded Concern

lhbThe concern regarding separate housing for adult court and juvenile court youth appears unfounded; no differences were found between the two groups in terms of victimization or offending. This is the bottom line of a recently published article in Law and Human Behavior. Below is a summary of the research and findings as well as a translation of this research into practice.

Featured Article | Law and Human Behavior | 2014, Vol. 38, No. 2, 126-138

Tried as an Adult, Housed as a Juvenile: A Tale of Youth From Two Courts Incarcerated Together

Authors

Jordan Bechtold University of California, Irvine
Elizabeth Cauffman University of California, Irvine

Abstract

Research has questioned the wisdom of housing juveniles who are convicted in criminal court in facilities with adult offenders. It is argued that minors transferred to criminal court should not be incarcerated with adults, due to a greater likelihood of developing criminal skills, being victimized, and attempting suicide. Alternatively, it has been suggested that the other option, housing these youth with minors who have committed less serious crimes and who are therefore adjudicated in juvenile courts, might have unintended consequences for juvenile court youth. The present study utilizes a sample of youth incarcerated in one secure juvenile facility, with some offenders processed in juvenile court (n = 261) and others processed in adult court (n = 103). We investigate whether youth transferred to adult court engage in more institutional offending (in particular, violence) and experience less victimization than their juvenile court counterparts. Results indicate that although adult court youth had a greater likelihood of being convicted of violent commitment offenses than juvenile court youth, the former engaged in less offending during incarceration than the latter. In addition, no significant differences in victimization were observed. These findings suggest that the concern about the need for separate housing for adult court youth is unfounded; when incarcerated together, those tried in adult court do not engage in more institutional violence than juvenile court youth.

Keywords

transfer to adult court, institutional behavior, juvenile court, juvenile offenders

Summary of the Research

Much debate in juvenile justice centers around whether it is most appropriate to house criminal court juvenile offenders with adult offenders or with juvenile offenders. Criminal court (adult court) juvenile offenders are tried as adults because of the seriousness of their crime, not the age at which they committed the crime. On one hand, housing criminal court youth offenders with adult offenders raises safety concerns should these youth experience greater rates of victimization or become more likely to commit suicide. Another concern raised is the influence of other adult offenders in turning youth offenders into mature, sophisticated criminals. On the other hand, housing these individuals with juvenile court youth might increase institutional violence in these juvenile facilities, although there is little empirical evidence that housing adult court and juvenile court offenders together increases violence in juvenile facilities.

The goal of this study was to provide empirical data regarding this concern to assist in determining where adult court youth should serve their time. Violent and nonviolent institutional behavior and victimization experiences in a juvenile facility were examined and compared for juvenile offenders processed in criminal court and those processed in the juvenile court system. Participants were 364 male juvenile offenders between the ages of 14 and 17 years who had committed a crime against another person (e.g., robbery, aggravated assault, attempted murder, sexual assault, and murder). The sample was divided into 261 juvenile court youth and 103 adult court youth and was ethnically diverse and representative of youth incarcerated in Southern California. Each participant completed six interviews over the course of their first two months of incarceration and data were collected regarding prior and institutional offending. In addition, frequency of experienced victimization was assessed with The Exposure to Violence Inventory. Institutional reports of victimization were not obtained, one of the study’s limitations.

Background Variables

No differences were found with respect to age, ethnicity, or proportion of time in the facility. Black youth had a higher chance of being transferred to adult court than White youth; however, when total prior arrests and violent offending were considered, these differences became non-significant… “In fact, White youth had more prior arrests than Black youth”(pp. 131-132).

Commitment offense

“Adult court minors were more likely to have a violent commitment offense than juvenile court youth and more likely to be a first time offender. 96.1% of adult court youth were convicted of a violent offense as their commitment offense compared with only 59.4% of juvenile court youth. The odds of being convicted of a violent offense were 16.9 times higher for adult court youth than juvenile court offenders.” (pp. 132)

Prior offending

According to official records, “youth tried in adult court were more likely to be first time offenders than juvenile court youth.” Self-reports of lifetime violent offending did not reveal any differences between adult court and juvenile court youth.

Do Adult Court Youth Engage in More Institutional Offending Than Youth From Juvenile Court?

“No analysis (nonviolent or violent; facility-report or self-report) indicated that adult court youth exhibit more offending than juvenile court youth. In fact, according to facility reports, juvenile court youth commit more violent and nonviolent offenses than do adult court youth.” (pp. 132)

Do Juvenile Court and Adult Court Youth Experience Similar Amounts of Victimization While Incarcerated Together?

“Results indicated no differences in victimization between juvenile court and adult court youth. Although a few youth were victimized as many as 13 times, on average, youth in the facility reported being victimized about one time (M = 0.63, SD = 1.53) during the first 2 months of incarceration ” (p. 132). There were no differences between juvenile court and adult court youth in victimization experiences during the study period.

Translating Research into Practice

This study found that even though adult court youth offenders were more likely to commit serious offenses, there was “no evidence that these youth engage in more violent or nonviolent institutional offending than youth processed in juvenile court”. It was actually juvenile court youth who “not only engaged in more institutional offending but also had more prior arrests and self-reported a more extensive history of offending than the adult court youth.” The strength of these findings is that they were consistent “across multiple data sources (facility-report and self-report; violent and nonviolent offenses” (pp. 133-135).

The study also found that there was a low likelihood for adult court youth to reoffend. Surprisingly, it was adult court youth who were more likely to be first time offenders than juvenile court offenders. This is in line with previous research indicating first time offenders are less likely to reoffend when compared to chronic offenders.

The study authors found it “especially encouraging” that the data indicate that adult court youth “do not engage in particularly high levels of offending when confined with other juvenile offenders” (pp. 134).

Taken together, the results of this study suggest that the hypothesized negative outcomes of housing adult court youth in a facility with juvenile court youth may warrant reconsideration. Adult court youth did not engage in more violent or nonviolent offending than juvenile court youth and there were no differences between the two groups in terms of victimization experiences. The study authors contrast their results with those from research regarding housing adult court juvenile offenders with other adults in which poorer outcomes (e.g., higher rates of recidivism) are found for juvenile offenders juveniles housed with adult offenders. In addition, juvenile facilities offer developmentally appropriate settings that promote educational objectives.

“Maintaining and encouraging academic goals—especially while incarcerated—is developmentally critical, as research indicates that education is a strong predictor of abstaining and desisting from delinquency and antisocial behavior. Juvenile facilities are, by design, more prepared to handle the educational needs of young offenders than adult facilities.” (pp. 135)

In addition, “Researchers found that when adolescents perceived a high degree of community reentry planning and/or services (e.g., mental health) during secure placement, the adolescent was less likely to recidivate over the subsequent year after release” (p. 135)

In summary, the researchers of the present study suggest that, “decision makers may want to consider the possibility of housing adult court youth in juvenile facilities (ideally on a case-by-case basis)” (p. 135).

Other Interesting Tidbits for Researchers and Clinicians

Future research could focus on comparing adult court youth housed in adult facilities to adult court youth housed in juvenile facilities. The present study only focused on the latter. Analyzing who is victimizing whom could also give researchers a better idea of the conditions in youth facilities.

Join the Discussion

As always, please join the discussion below if you have thoughts or comments to add!

Special Contributor

GaliciaBetsy-pictureContributions to this post were made by Betsy Galicia.

Betsy E. Galicia is a graduate student born and raised in Houston, Texas pursuing her MA in Forensic Psychology at John Jay College of Criminal Justice. She is interested in cultural differences in forensic assessments and cultural competency. She plans to write a thesis on these topics and go on to earn a doctoral degree. Other interests include traveling and exploring the world, going to parks, riding her bike, and re-reading The Giver by Lois Lowry.

Call for Papers: North American Correctional and Criminal Justice Psychology Conference

NACCJPCJune 4-6, 2015 | Ottawa, Ontario, Canada

Correctional and Criminal Justice is a specialty area in psychology. It is not simply about taking what works for the general population and putting it to work within a correctional setting. It is about adapting psychology to the client, adapting to the organizations that correctional and criminal justice psychologists work for, and adapting to the systems that this field serves with the goal to protect society and to improve the quality of life of individuals who are far too often marginalized. As a specialty area in Psychology, we need ongoing training and education that meet our specific needs. Cooperative efforts between the Canadian Psychological Association, the American Psychological Association, and their respective Criminal Justice Sections put together the first and second North American Correctional and Criminal Justice Psychology Conferences in 2007 and 2011 to meet the needs of researchers in the field and the practitioners who daily face the challenge of a practice within the criminal justice system. Both conferences were a tremendous success and featured well over 200 presentations. I trust you will share our enthusiasm and join us for this conference in 2015.

The NACCJPC is the most important and interesting conference in the world on criminological and correctional psychology. The standard of sessions is extremely high and everyone will learn a great deal from attending this conference. I learned a lot from the conference that was held in the beautiful city of Ottawa and I urge all interested researchers to attend this conference.” –David P. Farrington, Emeritus Professor of Psychological Criminology, Cambridge University

Distinguish Keynote Speakers

  • Dr. Kirk Heilbrun Professor, Drexel University, United States of America
  • Dr. Ruth Mann, Head of Evidence and Offence Specialism, National Offender Management Service, United Kingdom
  • Dr. Devon Polaschek, Professor, School of Psychology, Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand
  • Dr. Kevin Douglas, Associate Professor, Simon Fraser University, Canada

Call for Papers

The submission portal is anticipated to open on October 1st 2014 with a December 1st deadline. In October simply follow the links on the website or Facebook page to submit your concurrent workshop, symposia, or posters presentations.

All submissions will be subject to a peer review process. Where the quantity of submissions exceeds time allocations, priority will be given based upon quality of the presentation and balance of program topics. Whenever possible symposia submissions not accepted due to scheduling limitations will be allowed to submit as a poster presentation.

Presentations will be scheduled at the discretion of the organizers. Every attempt will be made to provide ample time for presentations. Presenters should be aware that symposia time slots are not expected to exceed 1.5 hours and may be 1 hour in length depending on the quantity of submissions. Presenters will be provided with the length of time upon notification of acceptance.

Unless invited, presentations previously published or presented at a CPA or APA or other national professional/research organization event may not be presented unless they include substantial elaboration or new information.

For More Information

More information is available on the conference website or can be obtained by Following and Liking on Twitter or Facebook. The Call for Papers can be downloaded here.

Website: cpa.ca/naccjpc

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/groups/205106602764/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/NACCJPC