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Publication Date

2009-08-10

Availability

UM campus only

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PHD)

Department

Epidemiology (Medicine)

Date of Defense

2009-06-15

First Committee Member

Gayle Dakof - Committee Chair

Second Committee Member

Kris Arheart - Committee Member

Third Committee Member

Cynthia Rowe - Committee Member

Fourth Committee Member

Judith Schaechter - Outside Committee Member

Abstract

Approximately 2.2 million children and adolescents are arrested each year, and these youthful offenders often display serious psychosocial dysfunction across a wide spectrum of areas: family dysfunction, mental health distress, problems with drug use, risky sexual behaviors, and a history of traumatic experiences. Of particular interest, the rate of female adolescent arrest and incarceration has been on the rise over the past several decades, yet female juvenile offenders are understudied compared with their male peers. It is important to identify risk factors that predispose certain female adolescents to criminal behavior to inform future interventions. Given the associations of mental health problems, substance use, trauma, and family dysfunction with crime in adolescent girls, further study is warranted to more clearly understand the links between these psychosocial factors and criminality in adolescents, especially girls. The impacts of mental health disorders, family functioning, risky sexual behavior, trauma, and substance use on juvenile justice involved youths are of great public health and social importance because of the potential to intervene and to prevent criminal behavior in at-risk teens. However, the relationships between these risk factors and the severity of juvenile offending in girls have not been studied adequately. By analyzing data from interviews and follow-up criminal records for almost 500 arrested and detained adolescent girls, we first investigated the associations between concurrent substance use and psychosocial dysfunction in this population. Secondly, we examined which psychosocial domains (i.e., mental health disorders, substance use/abuse, trauma, sexual behavior, and family functioning) were most predictive of recidivism and violent recidivism during adolescence for this group of offending girls. Finally, we studied which psychosocial variables best predicted time to next arrest, thereby determining if psychosocial functioning can also predict the amount of time before a given adolescent reoffends. Our findings indicated that substance use and sexual risk behaviors are the most important psychosocial predictors of poor outcomes in adolescent female juvenile offenders.

Keywords

Juvenile Justice; Delinquency; Female; Adolescent; Substance Use; Recidivism; Sexual Risk Behavior

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