Perceived Control and Treatment Outcome with Chronic Adolescent Offenders

By Swenson, Cynthia Cupit; Kennedy, Wallace A. | Adolescence, Fall 1995 | Go to article overview
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Perceived Control and Treatment Outcome with Chronic Adolescent Offenders


Swenson, Cynthia Cupit, Kennedy, Wallace A., Adolescence


Adolescent offenders currently account for a large number of arrests for violent and property crimes. While Federal Bureau of Investigation statistics show that persons under age 25 were responsible for 45% of the violent crimes and 61% of the property crimes in 1988 (Federal Bureau of Investigation, 1988), several research studies indicate that these figures are well below the number of crimes actually committed (Dunford & Elliott, 1982; Iniciardi & Pottieger, 1991).

Juvenile crime represents astronomical cost to society in damage to property and persons, as well as in treatment of delinquents and their victims. Annually, the United States spends more than one billion dollars to operate the juvenile justice system. Costs to society continue when delinquents reach adulthood due to the propensity of this population for unemployment, accidents, divorce, and welfare services (Caspi, Elder, & Bem, 1987). The difficulties of most adolescent offenders go well beyond crime. They tend to exhibit a higher prevalence of learning disabilities, hyperactivity, attention-deficit disorders, mental retardation, and substance abuse problems; and they are less skilled in problem-solving than the general adolescent population (Farrington, 1983; Kazdin, 1985; Larson, 1988; Quay & Werry, 1986; West, 1982).

To address the numerous problems experienced by adolescent offenders, myriad treatment programs have been administered with varying degrees of success. However, published studies on treatment of antisocial adolescents in particular are generally pessimistic regarding success rates (Kazdin, 1987).

To encourage more productive adult lives for adolescent offenders and to decrease the emotional and physical costs to society, the search for successful intervention strategies must continue. Among the many treatment programs utilized with juvenile offenders, problem areas such as anger control, sexual identity problems, substance abuse, and institutional adjustment have been addressed (Davis & Leitenberg, 1987; Feindler, Ecton, Kingsley, & Dubey, 1986; Friedman, Glickman, & Morrissey, 1986; Phillips, Phillips, Fixsen, & Wolf, 1971; Swenson, Butler, Kennedy & Baum, 1989). However, alterable factors that predict which treatment will be successful with which individuals remain unknown. Intellectual level, chronicity, and severity of the problem have all been related to treatment outcome (Quay & Werry, 1986); however, these factors are not alterable.

One alterable factor that appears promising in predicting which individuals will benefit from treatment, is perceived control. A number of theorists have stressed that perceived personal responsibility for behavior is an important factor in the effectiveness of treatment (Ellis, 1962; Glasser, 1965, 1984). In addition, a large number of studies support the importance of perceived control beliefs in academic achievement (Chapin & Dyck, 1976; Crandall, Katkovsky, & Crandall, 1965; Dweck, 1975; Fowler & Peterson, 1981; Gruen, Korte, & Baum, 1974; Mischel, Zeiss, & Zeiss, 1974) and, more recently, for predicting treatment success among children with adjustment problems (Weisz, 1986).

Although perceived control has been studied from many perspectives, Weisz (1983, 1986) defined it as a joint function of outcome contingency (perceived contingency) and personal competence (perceived competence). Outcome contingency involves the degree to which outcomes depend on the behavior of the individual (i.e., does what I do make a difference in what happens to me?). Personal competence refers to the individual's capacity to produce the behavior upon which the outcome is contingent (i.e., can I do what it takes to be successful on this task?). These two factors are reported to be independent, with a nonsignificant correlation of .18. Research indicates that children as young as seven years of age can make the distinction between these concepts (Weisz, 1986).

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