Risk and Protective Factors among Youth Offenders

Article excerpt


This exploratory study examined the risk and protective factors of youth offenders and their relation to recidivism. The sample consisted of 76 male and female juvenile probationers within a large metropolitan area. Archival records on probationers provided data on prior offenses, personal characteristics, familial conditions, drug use, peer selection, school performance, role models, and activities and hobbies. It was found that protective factors, specifically personal characteristics, familial conditions, and peer selection, differentiated nonrepeat offenders and repeat offenders. The present body of findings supports the adaptive model of resiliency and reinforces the importance of enhancing protective factors in youth offenders as a means of deterring delinquent behavior.

Through the lens of risk, researchers have viewed the youth offender as one who is living in poverty while being deficient in confidence, social relationships, academic abilities, and parental support (Lerner & Galambos, 1998). Volumes of theoretical and empirical research have been devoted to causal explanations of delinquent behavior, and to the identification of risk factors and stressors that characterize the young criminal offender. Risk factors are those conditions that are associated with a higher likelihood of negative outcomes, such as engaging in problem behavior, dropping out of school, and having trouble with the law (Jessor, Van Den Bos, Vanderryn, Costa & Turbin, 1995). Risk factors include poor self-concept, low self-esteem (Brook, Whiteman, Balka, & Cohen, 1997; Lerner & Galambos, 1998; Werner, 1993), interpersonal inadequacy (Brook et al., 1997), poor expectations for education (Brook et al., 1997; Lerner & Galambos, 1998), trouble-some attitude (Corbett & Petersilia, 1994), poor parenting st yles (Lerner & Galambos, 1998), low family cohesion (Blaske, Borduin, Henggeler & Mann, 1989; Corbett & Petersilia, 1994; Davidson, Redner, Blakely, Mitchell, & Emshoff, 1987), relationships with peers who engage in risk behaviors (Blaske et al., 1989; Lerner & Galambos, 1998), large number of siblings within the household (Corbett & Petersilia, 1994), drug use (Brook et al., 1997; Lerner & Galambos, 1998), poor academic performance, poor school attendance, and continued involvement in risk behavior (Lerner & Galambos, 1998).

A review of the literature reveals that specific stressful events and ongoing stressful life conditions (termed stressors) have also been associated with adverse developmental outcomes, including delinquent behavior in adolescence (Cowen & Work, 1988; Cowen, Wyman, Work, & Iker, 1995; Fergusson & Lynskey, 1996; Rutter, 1985; Wertlieb, Weigel, & Feldstein, 1987; Work, Cowen, Parker, & Wyman, 1990). Stressors include poverty, familial separation, parental psychopathology, parental alcoholism, prenatal stress, abuse, and maltreatment (Cowen & Work, 1988; Masten, Garmezy, Tellegen, Pellegrini, Larkin, & Larsen, 1988; Werner, 1986; Werner, 1989). Adolescents who experience stressors are considered at risk, according to the risk perspective.

The risk perspective depicts the youth offender on a trajectory of criminality, addiction, and dependency. Although repeated delinquency can lead to career paths in criminal activity in later adolescence and adulthood, not all of those who are exposed to stressors continue to commit criminal acts. Many individuals raised in adverse circumstances, with early criminal records, have transcended the limitations of their environment and have developed into productive, well-adjusted adults (Jessor, 1993; Lerner & Galambos, 1998; Werner, 1993). Thus, an alternative model can be constructed: one that emphasizes the strengths and assets of youth offenders, and turns its attention to those adolescents who have desisted from delinquent involvement. In contrast to the risk perspective, an adaptive model would emphasize the factors and processes that safeguard youth from adverse outcomes. …