Research Priorities

Research on risk and protective factors with regard to SVJ offending should focus more on developmental issues, document how risk factors emerge and change in different contexts, and explore the relationship between risk and protective factors and the onset, persistence, escalation, and cessation of offending. The current literature lacks theories that focus solely on SVJ offending; development of such theories is critical to drive new research and expand knowledge in this area. New longitudinal studies that measure a wide range of risk and protective factors would be a positive step in theory development. Such studies should be based on high-risk samples and should incorporate screening methods that increase the chance of studying subjects who are likely to become SVJ offenders.

In determining what works to prevent SVJ offending, the evaluation of intervention programs is critical. Experimental studies involving multiple-component interventions are needed. The different intervention components should target various age ranges and be applied to high-risk youth or high-risk communities. Evaluations can also yield important information about which programs are cost effective and which are simply costly. It may be desirable to include interventions in a longitudinal study or to follow up on cohorts in an intervention study.

A Federal program of integrated and coordinated data collection, intervention, and research on SVJ offenders based on input from an interdisciplinary panel of researchers, scholars, and practitioners should pursue the following priorities:

Bullet Annual or biannual surveys, especially in large metropolitan areas, to measure the prevalence of SVJ offenders and of youth at risk for SVJ offending.
Bullet Longitudinal studies in which multiple cohorts are followed in order to draw conclusions about development from birth through the teenage years and into early adulthood.
Bullet Studies that integrate information on important community contexts into the study of SVJ offending and delinquent careers. Specifically needed are studies to identify protective factors in disadvantaged neighborhoods.
Bullet Studies that examine female SVJ offenders and SVJ offenders in rural areas.
Bullet Evaluations (e.g., using randomized experiments) that yield knowledge about effective programs specific to SVJ offenders.
Bullet Studies of program cost effectiveness.
Bullet Studies to determine the impact of transfer of SVJ offenders to criminal court on their subsequent offending and their treatment in the criminal justice system.
Bullet Evaluations of communitywide programs, such as OJJDP's Comprehensive Strategy, that assess their efficacy in reducing community levels of delinquency, SVJ offending, and associated risk factors.

Suggested Priorities for Communities

Bullet First, communities need to be organized to reduce risk factors for delinquency and increase protective factors. Parents, schools, and neighborhoods are the primary socializing agents for children and therefore constitute the prime resources for preventing juveniles' escalation to serious and/or violent offending. The juvenile justice system enters the picture only when the efforts of these primary socializing agents fail to produce law-abiding youth.
Bullet Second, early intervention in at-risk families will reduce serious and violent offending. Families plagued by violence, abuse, and neglect can be helped by nurse home visitation (before and after childbirth), parent training, and early childhood care and education.
Bullet Third, better screening of court-referred youth to identify those with multiple problems can provide a basis for early intervention and prevent their progression to more serious and violent behavior. Multiple-problem youth -- those experiencing a combination of mental health and school problems along with abuse, neglect, and family violence -- are at greatest risk for continued and escalating offending.
Bullet Fourth, the effectiveness of the juvenile justice system would be greatly enhanced by providing intake officers with better tools to distinguish between SVJ offenders apprehended for less serious offenses and truly less serious offenders, and between occasional and frequent offenders, at the time of their first referral. The use of graduated sanctions in tandem with rehabilitation programs that match offender behavior problems with suitable treatments should produce lower rates of juvenile reoffending.

Serious and Violent Juvenile Offenders Juvenile Justice Bulletin   ·  May 1998