Academic journal article Family Relations

Gender, Ethnicity, and the Family Environment: Contributions to Assessment Efforts within the Realm of Juvenile Justice*

Academic journal article Family Relations

Gender, Ethnicity, and the Family Environment: Contributions to Assessment Efforts within the Realm of Juvenile Justice*

Article excerpt


The present study examines potential variation in the family environments of African American and Caucasian males and females coming to the attention of the juvenile court. Results of initial analysis of variance (ANOVA) procedures indicated a significant Gender × Ethnicity interaction on scores from the family/parenting domain of the Global Risk Assessment Device, such that African American and Caucasian women displayed the greatest family risks and needs. Further ANOVA procedures indicated that factors related to family, gender, and ethnicity were significant predictors of illegal behavior, and the presence of a Gender × Family interaction was detected, such that the presence of higher family risk and needs coincided with African American and Caucasian women reporting relatively equal prior offenses with their male counterparts.

Key Words: adolescent at risk behavior, assessment, ethnicity/race issues, gender and family relationships, juvenile delinquency.

The enormous rise in the rates of imprisonment in the adult population has generated an increased appreciation of the criminal justice system's impact on the family, especially regarding the deleterious effects of incarceration on family stability and the ability to parent (Sandifer & Kurth, 2000; Western & McLanahan, 2000). In tandem, adolescents themselves are being detained at greater rates, and increasingly are being bound over to the adult criminal justice system, even though violent juvenile crime has decreased (Schindler & Arditti, 2001). The underreliance on assessment information contributes to an appreciable gap between the needs of courtinvolved youth and the services they receive (Stiffman, Chen, Elze, Dore, & Cheng, 1997), which may be one of the primary reasons behind the criminal justice system's overreliance on detention.

Unfortunately, users of assessment instruments in the juvenile justice realm tend to be more the exception than the norm. Although formal assessment procedures are thought to provide greater validity, structure, and consistency to efforts that match interventions to needs (Howell, 1995), more often than not anecdotal evidence suggests that juvenile justice professionals rely on intuition and experience to guide and direct their interactions with youth who have come to the attention of the court. In turn, this lack of reliance on assessment information contributes to the "highly subjective" nature of the juvenile justice system that can lead to "erroneous, inequitable, and inconsistent decisions" (Stevenson et al., 1996, p. 8).

When assessment instruments are employed, typically they have been used as case management tools that augment decision making about how stringent the level of supervision (i.e., the intensity of the probation or parole period) should be for a given jusvenile offender. Risk assessment instruments that serve a case management function usually focus on offense-related information (age at first arrest, severity of the current offense, etc.) and typically are employed in order to reduce the likelihood of reoffending behavior (recidivism) by the court-involved youth (Andrews & Bonta, 1994). Professionals working with juvenile offenders also have employed instruments that measure certain "extralegal" factors believed to be related to court involvement (Silver & Miller, 2002). For instance, juvenile court judges oftentimes will express interest in the results of mental health and/or substance abuse screens as a means of informing their court-ordered treatment plan (Herz, 2001).

Recently, more attention has been given to a crucial but often overlooked extralegal factor: the families of court-involved youth. The literature to date suggests that a variety of family factors are associated with delinquent behavior. Historically, however, the criminology literature has paid most attention to the direct effects of family structural characteristics on delinquency (Fox & Benson, 2000), such as divorce, economic disadvantage, and residence in dangerous neighborhoods. …

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