Educational, Familial, Social, and Criminal Profiles of Male Juvenile Offenders

Article excerpt

Over the last decade alone, the overall crime rate among adolescents has increased substantially. To understand this trend, this article examines characteristics of adolescent males who come into contact with the juvenile justice system. The study focuses on drug and alcohol involvement, the relevance of education, sexual practices, and sensitivity to violence. For this study, 82 males, aged 12-18, who were randomly selected from a correctional institution located in a large southeastern state, completed instruments and provided demographic information. Results indicate that juvenile offenders share a number of characteristics, which lead to the following profile: single-parent households headed by the mother; siblings or parents who have been involved in the legal system; the use of cigarettes, alcohol, and marijuana at an early age; weekly $1,000 earnings selling crack; a friend who sells drugs; achievement in mathematics; high rates of suspension and expulsion; no aspiration for higher education; early sexual activity; and weapons ownership. A number of intervention strategies, particularly community-based programs, are recommended

Juvenile delinquency was first recognized as a social problem in the United States at the beginning of the Industrial Revolution (Eddy & Gribskov, 1998). Unfortunately, the number of juvenile delinquents arrested for crimes has increased steadily since. Moreover, there has been a marked increase in the prevalence and severity of criminal activity in the past decade. In particular, according to the Federal Bureau of Investigation ( 1995), since 1985, the overall crime rate among adolescents has increased by 75%, including a 97% increase in aggravated assaults and a 150% increase in murders. Unfortunately, despite a plethora of research in the area of violence and aggression, we still do not understand why our youth continue to become involved in and victimized by criminal acts.

The purpose of this study was to examine characteristics of adolescent males who come into contact with the juvenile justice system and to assess their attitudes and perceptions on a number of relevant dimensions. These dimensions include: drug and alcohol involvement, relevance of education, sexual practices, and sensitivity to violence.

It was believed that an understanding of the attitudes and perceptions of aggressive, undersocialized youth would have implications for confronting the rising concerns about violence among today's youth. Also, it was hoped that this study would contribute to the knowledge base relating to juvenile delinquents by determining factors which place them at risk, thus helping to identify effective treatment programs and ultimately reducing the overall rate of incarceration.

Method

Participants Eighty-two adolescent males, aged 12-18, participated in the study. This sample was drawn randomly from the population of juveniles incarcerated at correctional facilities located in a large southeastern state. The sample size represented approximately 15% of the total number of juveniles incarcerated at these correctional institutions.

INSTRUMENT AND PROCEDURE

Participants were administered the Lifestyles, Attitudes, and Perceptions Survey (LAPS), which was devised by the researchers specifically for the present study. The LAPS is an 86-item questionnaire consisting of a series of open- and closed-ended questions designed to examine juveniles' attitudes and perceptions regarding a variety of life issues. This instrument examines several domains, including drug use, sexual behavior, life expectancies, and attitudes towards women.

The LAPS was reviewed by secondary school teachers and analyzed using Grammatik 5 (Reference Software International, 1992) for readability. All scales were found to be suitable for readers at a fifth-grade level. Although participants were provided with the actual instrument, each question was read aloud by one of the researchers in order to control for variation in reading skills. …