It is becoming increasingly important to understand the characteristics of juvenile offenders in order to decrease and prevent juvenile delinquency (Jenson, Potter, & Howard, 2001; Snyder & Sickmund, 2006). According to FBI 2004 arrest statistics, juveniles committed 15.5% of violent crimes and 27.5% of property crimes (Puzzanchera, Adams, Snyder, & Kang, 2006). In 2002, juvenile offenders were involved in 8% of all murders, and the data surrounding violent juvenile crime indicates a recent escalating trend (Snyder & Sickmund, 2006). These statistics provide a small sample of the evidence that juvenile crime is a complicated and important issue and that methods must be developed to prevent juveniles from or continuing their offending behavior into adulthood.
Many researchers believe there is a strong link between juvenile delinquency, mental health problems, and traumatic experiences (Baer & Maschi, 2003; Cauffman, Feldman, Waterman, & Steiner, 1998; Dixon, Howie, & Starling, 2004; Ritakallio, Kaltiala-Heino, Kivivuori, Luukkaala, & Rimpela, 2006). Social cognitive functioning in seriously delinquent youth is often deficient due to trauma experienced early in childhood and adolescence. The most serious offenders enter the juvenile justice system with histories that include physical and sexual abuse, witnessing violent acts, parental substance abuse and neglect, and numerous mental health, developmental, and emotional issues (Baer & Maschi, 2003; Dixon, Howie, & Starling, 2005; Jenson et al., 2001).
Snyder and Sickmund (2006) revealed that a significantly large number of juveniles reported assaulting someone with the intention of inflicting serious harm. Others display such behaviors as running away from home, selling drugs, or stealing something worth more than $50. In addition, juveniles with foster care experience and other negative home environments are significantly more likely to engage in delinquent activities earlier than are juvenile offenders without such backgrounds (Alitucker, Bullis, Close, & Yovanoff, 2006; Caldwell, Beutler, Sturges, & Silver, 2006; Leve & Chamberlain, 2004).
Negative experiences during childhood and early adolescence are not the only factors that appear to be linked to juvenile delinquency. A number of studies show that delinquency is related to depression; between 10% and 30% of incarcerated juveniles portray symptoms of major depression (Caufmann et al., 1998; Leve & Chamberlain, 2004; Ritakallio et al., 2006). High rates of drug and other substance abuse were reported in several samples of incarcerated youth (Brook, Whiteman, Finch, & Cohen, 1996; Jensen et al., 2001).
Additionally, some incarcerated adolescents and young adults display personality characteristics associated with some types of conduct disorder including antisocial behavior, poor impulse control, unexpressed emotions, and little remorse. These individuals are more likely to commit violent crimes (Loper, Hoffschmidt, & Ash, 2001). School failure is also associated with juvenile delinquency (Jenson et al., 2001; Mann & Reynolds, 2006).
Male Juvenile Offenders
Many factors are believed to lead male juveniles down the path to delinquency. Statistics show that ethnic and racial minority youths are twice as likely to commit violent acts as white male youths (Jensen et al., 2001; Maschi, 2006). Trauma is listed as a consistent factor related to male juvenile delinquency (Dixon et al., 2005; Lenssen et al., 2002; Maschi, 2006). Stressful life events often lead male juveniles to engage in violent offending (Caufmann et al., 1998; Maschi, 2006). Over 50% of male victims of child maltreatment become serious juvenile offenders before the age of 12 (Maschi, 2006; Alitucker et al., 2006).
Traumatic experiences can lead to psychopathology and depression in male adolescents, and research indicates that mental health problems and depression can be associated with repeated delinquency (Caufmann et al. …