An Empirically-Based Typology of Male Young Offenders

Article excerpt

Two issues were addressed in the present study. First, the psychometric properties of a risk/needs assessment for youth (Youth Level of Service Inventory (YLSI) (Andrews, Ronbinson, and Hoge 1984) were explored. Second, an effort was made to develop a typology of young offenders. The sample was comprised of consecutive admissions to one of 6 probation offices in a large urban region and included 256 males with a mean age of 15.2 years. Statistical analyses showed the YLSI to be psychometrically sound and useful in differentiating among offender risk levels. Standardized YLSI subscale scores were subjected to cluster analysis that revealed a reliable and meaningful five cluster solution. These clusters were validated against various offence and clinical criterion measures.


Youth crime is a growing public concern. It is costly to society and individuals, both in terms of financial and victimization consequences. Efforts to develop a better understanding of the phenomenon are important because they can lead to improved interventions. Reviews of the delinquency literature (e.g., Loeber and Dishion 1983; Parke and Slaby 1983) indicate that a range of risk/need variables have been linked with delinquent behaviour. These include variables that can be broadly grouped according to characteristics of the persons, their home, parental attitudes and practices, peer group, and school issues. Furthermore, according to Andrews' (1994) social learning theory of criminal conduct, it is the number and density of these factors that influence the probability ofdelinquent behaviour. It is important, therefore, that any assessment of risk/need factors of youth should provide a broad and comprehensive survey of such factors.

Accurate assessments of risk/need factors are important for the development of case classification systems. Several adult offender typologies, most notably Megargee and Bohn (1977), have been reported in the correctional literature. Conceptual and practical problems have limited their usefulness, however. The situation with respect to young offenders is particularly sparse. Two of the most popular of these typologies are the Conceptual-Level-Matching-Model (Harvey, Hunt, and Schroder 1961) and the Interpersonal Maturity Level (I-Level) (Warren 1966). Both are based on the notion of cognition; how people think, and integrate, evaluate, and differentiate information, particularly as it applies to interpersonal situations. Congnitive function is seen as a continuum with delinquents, as opposed to nondelinquents, generally falling at the lower levels. While these typologies have attracted a fair amount of attention in the correctional literature, they are limited in the sense that they were theoretically rather than empirically derived and are based on a theoretical postulate (e.g., cognitive functioning) that is only indirectly related to criminal conduct.

Two empirically-derived young offender typologies have appeared in the correctional literature. In one of the earliest, Hewitt and Jenkins (1946) gathered a variety of data (e.g., demographics, family background, education) on 500 youths referred by school and/or child welfare agencies to a child guidance centre. Forty-five variables were manually intercorrelated using a computing diagram and the analysis yielded three distinct types. These were labeled; "socialized delinquent" (bad companions, gang delinquency, and truancy), "unsocialized aggressive" (assaultive behaviour, cruelty, defiance to authority, and inadequate guilt feelings), and "overinhibited" (worry, seclusiveness, and submissiveness).

Herbert Quay (1964) extended the early work of Hewitt and Jenkins (1946) by using more sophisticated statistical methods on a more homogeneous population. The case records of a sample of 115 incarcerated male young offenders with a mean age of 16.6 years were coded according to a 36-item checklist. This checklist included several of the behavioural items from the Hewitt and Jenkins (1946) study and additional items rationally related to delinquency. …