SVJ Offenders -- A Distinct Group

The first major conclusion the Study Group drew was that the SVJ offender is substantially different from the typical juvenile involved in delinquent conduct. The majority of SVJ offenders are male and usually display early minor behavior problems that lead to more serious delinquent acts. Figure 1 shows three pathways that can help to explain males' progression to SVJ offending: the authority conflict pathway (before age 12), the overt pathway, and the covert pathway. Those who reach the last step in each pathway usually have gone through the preceding steps. When these youth begin to commit more serious delinquent acts, they typically also continue to commit less serious delinquent acts. Youth who become SVJ offenders tend to escalate to serious and violent offending either via the authority conflict pathway and the covert pathway (property offenders) or via the authority conflict pathway, the covert pathway, and the overt pathway (violent and property offenders). The majority of SVJ offenders also tend to have multiple problems such as substance abuse and mental health difficulties in addition to truancy, suspension, expulsion, and dropping out of school. Furthermore, SVJ offenders are disproportionately victims of violence.

Figure 1: Pathways to Boys' Disruptive
Behavior and Delinquency

Figure 1

An analysis of how early SVJ offending begins revealed that the actual delinquency careers of SVJ offenders are quite different from what is officially recorded. Table 1 shows that, on average, the first contact with the juvenile court for male Crime Index offenders was at age 14.5. The actual delinquency careers of these offenders (judging from their own statements and those of their mothers) started much earlier. Viewed in relation to the pathway model (figure 1), youth who were brought to court for Index offenses at age 14.5 typically began to have minor behavior problems at age 7.0, progressed to moderately serious behavior problems at age 9.5, and committed serious delinquent offenses at age 11.9. Thus, on average, more than 7 years elapsed between the earliest minor problem behaviors and the first court appearance for a Crime Index offense.

Table 1: Average Age of Onset of Problem Behaviors and Delinquency in Male Juveniles*

Table 1

*Data based on the statements of the oldest sample in the Pittsburgh Youth Study and on statements by their mothers.

SVJ offenders differ from non-SVJ offenders in the following ways:

Bullet The majority of SVJ offenders tend to start offending early and continue longer than non-SVJ offenders. Also, the age of onset of nondelinquent behavioral problems is much earlier in SVJ offenders.
Bullet Chronic offenders account for more than half of all serious crimes committed by juveniles; the vast majority of them are SVJ offenders (see figure 2).
Bullet SVJ offending is more prevalent among African-American youth than among whites, but this may be due to significant community factors such as living in poor, socially disorganized neighborhoods.
Bullet From childhood to adolescence, SVJ offenders tend to develop behavior problems such as aggression, dishonesty, property offenses, and conflict with authority figures.
Bullet SVJ offenders typically advance simultaneously in each problem behavior area, beginning with minor problem behaviors and progressing to increasingly more serious forms of delinquency.

Figure 2: Officially Recognized Delinquent Careers:
Overlap of Serious, Violent, and Chronic Offender Careers

Figure 2

Definition of Serious Violent Offenses

Serious violent offenses include homicide, rape, robbery, aggravated assault, and kidnapping.

Serious nonviolent offenses include burglary, motor vehicle theft, theft of more than $100, arson, drug trafficking, and extortion.

Serious and Violent Juvenile Offenders Juvenile Justice Bulletin   ·  May 1998