Academic journal article Journal of Juvenile Justice

Assessing Probation Officers' Knowledge of Offenders with Intellectual Disabilities: A Pilot Study

Academic journal article Journal of Juvenile Justice

Assessing Probation Officers' Knowledge of Offenders with Intellectual Disabilities: A Pilot Study

Article excerpt

Introduction

The prevalence of the U.S. incarcerated population with intellectual disabilities (ID)1 is between 4% and 10% (Scheyett, Vaughn, Taylor, & Parish, 2008), according to most estimates. Although offenders with ID compose a small percentage of offenders within the criminal justice system, the number far exceeds the 1% to 3% prevalence of people with ID found in the general population (Russell, 2012). Moreover, youth with ID have encompassed a large sector of the juvenile delinquent population since the late 1960s (Brier, 1989). Reports show that more than 50% of juvenile offenders had evidence of an ID (Berman,1974; Podboy & Mallory, 1978; Larson, 1988; Katsiyannis, Ryan, Zhang, & Spann, 2008). Waldie and Spreen (1993) suggest that youth with ID possess personality characteristics such as poor impulse control and problem-solving ability, social perception problems, and poor judgment that make them prone to delinquent activity.

The National Center for State Courts conducted a controlled investigation with large representative samples and a comprehensive assessment of ID and delinquency (Dunivant, 1982). According to these studies, 36% of incarcerated juveniles were found to be more than twice as likely to commit a delinquent offense than their non-ID peers. When such variables as socioeconomic status, family size, and family intactness were controlled, these results remained essentially unchanged (Dunivant, 1982). This seems to show that the link between ID and juvenile delinquency strongly suggests that youth with ID face additional vulnerability during the arrest and adjudication process.

This hypothesis that ID is related to juvenile delinquency was also tested with a sample of 1,005 public school and 687 adjudicated juvenile delinquent youth (ages 12 to 17) who reported on their participation in delinquent behaviors (Larson, 1988). The results indicated that proportionately more adjudicated delinquent youth than public school youth had ID. Although this adds support to the literature suggesting there is an overrepresentation of people with ID within the criminal justice system (Lindsay, 2002; Scheyett, et al., 2008), the data showed no differences in delinquent behaviors engaged in by either sample group. Based on these findings, authors proposed that the greater proportion of youth with ID among adjudicated juvenile delinquents may be explained more by the way they are treated within the juvenile justice system than by differences in their delinquent behaviors (Shandra & Hogan, 2012; Zimmerman, Rich, Keilitz, & Broder, 1981). Further, Mallet's (2000) study of 397 juvenile youth offenders with ID on supervised probation reported findings that suggested that to better serve this population, needs and service gaps within the juvenile justice system would need to be overcome. Overcoming these gaps would improve intersystem collaboration for the juvenile court personnel and officers who work with this disproportionately represented population. This suggests that there is a need for probation officers to have an increased awareness of youth with ID and to know how to implement appropriate interventions so they can assist youth in their caseloads who have these challenging behaviors (McKenzie, Paxton, & Murray, 2003).

ID Definition

According to the American Psychiatric Association (2000), "Intellectual disability is operationally defined as a state of arrested or incomplete mental development resulting in a significant impairment of intellectual functioning and adaptive and social functioning that originates before the age of 18" (p. 52). More recently the American Association on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities' Definition Manual provided this definition: "Intellectual disability refers to a particular state of functioning that begins in childhood, is multidimensional, and is affected positively by individualized supports" (Thompson, 2010, p. 166). This is in keeping with the emergence of a person-environment fit model that focuses on a person's interactions with his or her environment. …

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