Juvenile Offenders Risk Factors
Over recent decades, a plethora of seminal research has outlined an extensive understanding of the various risk factors for juvenile offenders. Broadly, juvenile offending may be defined as a given factor – such as a circumstance, personal characteristic, or experience – that proliferates the probability that any given youth will commit a legal offence. Whilst no single risk factor links directly to offending, juvenile offending may emerge as a result of a series of complex interactions among risk factors, that vary between individuals. Whilst some risk factors such as gender are unalterable, other factors such as family dynamics, cognitive deficits, substance abuse, and neighbourhood communities may have numerous and wide-ranging impacts on an individual. This article will examine various risk factors and individual characteristics that contribute to an increased likelihood in juvenile offending.
Cognitive Deficits –
Cognitive discrepancies between individuals have been implicated as a significant risk factor for juvenile delinquency. A multitude of literature has determined that social-cognitive development is particularly imperative, as well as low intelligence IQs, weak verbal abilities, learning disabilities, and difficulties with concentration or attention.
Psychological Factors –
Behaviours such as impulsivity, hyperactivity, a lack of self-control, and engagement in risk-taking behaviours are psychological factors that increase the risk of juvenile offending. For example, individuals with low self-control may lack interest in long-term pursuits. Subsequently, these individuals may find it more difficult to resolve disputes via verbal means, and resort to physical violence instead. Thus, impulsivity and aggression are significant risk factors for juvenile offending.
Brain Development –
Previous literature has suggested that anatomical, neuropsychological, and chemical abnormalities are more prevalent among chronic criminal offenders and those exhibiting recurrent antisocial behaviour than among the general population. These abnormalities may be caused by damage to a specific brain region (through injury), or through behavioural or environmental factors such as substance abuse or poor nutrition. Adolescence is an incredibly significant period for neurological growth, due to marked brain development in several neural regions such as self-control and emotional regulation. An abundance of literature has linked complications to these brain regions with later antisocial behaviour and a lack of emotion regulation.
Social influences such as family dynamics have also been associated to juvenile offending. The effect of family characteristics is most pronounced in early childhood, and family size has been linked to juvenile offending with youths who have more siblings being more likely to engage in delinquent behaviour. Other factors increasing juvenile offending are inconsistent discipline, a lack of parental supervision, and hostile parenting styles.
The importance of peers in youths’ social networks grows substantially during adolescence, and subsequently helps to explain that particular characteristics of a youth’s peer groups increases their likelihood of offending. Primarily, individuals with delinquent friends are more likely to offend. Additionally, the age and gender of an adolescent’s peers are also important factors, with male peers being generally more likely to encourage antisocial behaviour than female peers, as well as having older peers is also associated with a greater likelihood of offending.
The community –
Neighbourhood characteristics can play a vital role in increasing the risk factors of juvenile offending. For example, adolescents raised in disadvantaged neighbourhoods are at greater risk of offending than children raised in more affluent areas. Disadvantaged neighbourhoods have weaker social control due to isolation and high residential turnover, and this lack of social control not only provides more opportunities for offending, but also increases youths’ exposure to criminal behaviour by others in their community. In addition, schooling can have a significant impact on the likelihood of offending. Difficulties at school such as poor educational performance, low educational aspirations, high drop-out rates, and excessive suspension and expulsions, have all been previously associated with increased delinquency.