Academic journal article Journal of Juvenile Justice

Variations in Juvenile Offending in Louisiana: Demographic, Behavioral, Geographic, and School-Related Predictors

Academic journal article Journal of Juvenile Justice

Variations in Juvenile Offending in Louisiana: Demographic, Behavioral, Geographic, and School-Related Predictors

Article excerpt

Introduction

This study focuses on the youthful population of Louisiana-a historically high-poverty state in the southern United States. A 2014 report ranked Louisiana as having the second highest juvenile violent crime rate in the United States, with 445 out of every 100,000 Louisiana youth arrested for a violent offense such as murder, rape, robbery, or aggravated assault (Puzzanchera, 2014). Pervasive social, economic, and educational problems in Louisiana set the stage for this extremely troubling finding. Louisiana was ranked 46 out of 50 on rankings of overall child well being (Annie E. Casey Foundation [AECF], 2014). Approximately 30% of Louisiana children live in poverty, and almost half (45%) come from single-parent homes (AECF, 2014; U.S. Census Bureau, 2010). Regarding education, AECF (2014) ranked Louisiana 46th on educational well-being and indicated that nearly one third of Louisiana children did not graduate from high school on time. Louisiana is a state in crisis, warranting focused attention and study. Lessons learned in this study may be generalized to other high-poverty and low educationally performing states with high crime rates.

Background

Delinquency remains a rich area of study, and decades of research have informed the development of theories, policies, and practices that aim to reduce and prevent youth crime. Many longitudinal studies have followed youth for years to determine the risk factors associated with delinquency and adult crime (Browning, Thornberry, & Porter, 1999; Glueck & Glueck, 1950; Loeber, Farrington, Stouthamer-Loeber, Moffitt, & Caspi, 1998; Thornberry, Huizinga, & Loeber, 2004). The Pittsburgh Youth Study, Rochester Youth Development Study, and Denver Youth Survey comprise notable longitudinal investigations of youth crime in the United States (Thornberry et al., 2004). Numerous articles have been published on these investigations that have shed light on offending patterns, trajectories, risk factors, and implications for prevention (Loeber et al., 1993; Loeber et al., 1998; Loeber & Hay, 1997; Stouthamer-Loeber, Wei, Homish, & Loeber, 2002; Thornberry & Krohn, 2003). However, work remains in examining delinquency influences using samples from the Deep South (i.e., Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, and South Carolina). Moreover, the relationships between certain combinations of sociodemographic factors and offense severity have been rarely addressed in the literature. The current study builds on previous research by examining the relative influences of demographic, behavioral, geographic, and school-related factors on offense severity in Louisiana.

Literature Review

Severity of Offense

Research predicting juvenile offense severity is relatively rare, considering the large body of literature on youth offending. Exceptions include a 2006 longitudinal study and a 2010 follow-up study that examined secondary data from the South Carolina Department of Juvenile Justice (SCDJJ). In the 2006 study, Barrett, Katsiyannis, and Zhang conducted analyses to predict first offense referral severity (nonstatus offense compared with status; felony compared with misdemeanor; violent compared with nonviolent) among a large sample of youth (N = 12,468). The authors found that African Americans and males were more likely to be referred for the more serious offense categories such as nonstatus, felony, and violent. Data from the 2010 followup study consisted of about 100,000 SCDJJinvolved youth (Barrett, Katsiyannis, & Zhang, 2010). Race, gender, and age differences were observed in predicting the severity of first-time offenses. A comparison between nonstatus and status offenses showed that African Americans, males, and older youth were more likely to be referred for nonstatus first offenses. The felony and misdemeanor comparison yielded similar findings for African Americans and males but indicated that younger youth were more likely to be referred for felony offenses. …

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