Program of Research on the Causes and Correlates of Delinquency
Since 1986, OJJDP has sponsored three longitudinal studies -- collectively referred to as the Program of Research on the Causes and Correlates of Delinquency -- to improve understanding of serious delinquency, violence, and drug use by examining how individual juveniles develop within the context of family, school, peers, and community. Samples of inner-city youth were selected in three cities: Denver, CO; Pittsburgh, PA; and Rochester, NY. The studies involve repeated contacts with the same juveniles, including face-to-face private interviews every 6 to 12 months for a substantial portion of their developmental years. On average, 90 percent of the juveniles in the sample population have been retained in the studies.
The Causes and Correlates Studies|
- A Longitudinal Multi-Disciplinary Study of Developmental Patterns (Denver Youth Survey), directed by Dr. David Huizinga at the University of Colorado.
- Progressions in Antisocial and Delinquent Child Behavior (Pittsburgh Youth Study), directed by Dr. Rolf Loeber at the University of Pittsburgh.
- A Panel Study of a Reciprocal Causal Model of Delinquency (Rochester Youth Development Study), directed by Dr. Terence P. Thornberry at The Research Foundation, University at Albany, State University of New York.
Researchers at all three sites use the same core measures to look at the following:
What Have We Learned?
- Delinquent behavior.
- Drug use.
- Juvenile justice system involvement.
- Community characteristics.
- Family experiences.
- Peer relationships.
- Educational experiences.
- Attitudes and values.
- Demographic characteristics.
Many findings of the Causes and Correlates studies reinforce earlier knowledge and beliefs about the roots of delinquency and violence. Knowledge is also being advanced in many important directions.
What Does This Mean?
- Childhood maltreatment is associated with later behavior problems. A history of childhood maltreatment is associated with an increased risk of at least 25 percent for engaging in a host of adolescent problem behaviors. These include serious and violent delinquency, drug use, poor school performance, mental illness, and teenage pregnancy. In addition, a history of maltreatment nearly doubles the risk that teenagers will experience multiple problems during adolescence.
- Less serious problem behaviors precede more serious delinquency. The development of disruptive and delinquent behavior in boys generally progresses in an orderly fashion. Researchers identified three distinct developmental pathways: authority conflict (e.g., defiance and running away); covert actions (e.g., lying and stealing); and overt actions (e.g., aggressive and violent behavior). Individuals may proceed along single or multiple developmental pathways toward serious antisocial behavior.
- Serious delinquents have many co-occurring problems. Serious delinquents are likely to be involved in drug use, precocious sexual activity, school failure, juvenile gangs, unsupervised gun ownership, and related behaviors.
- Very young children are involved in serious violent behavior. Delinquency, drug use, and other problem behaviors begin at earlier ages than previously thought. A small, but substantial percentage of boys and girls is involved in serious violence even before becoming teenagers. At age 12, 19 percent of the boys and 15 percent of the girls in Denver reported involvement in these activities. In Pittsburgh, 7 percent of the 10-year-olds reported involvement in serious violent behavior.
- Violence among girls has increased. In general, a greater percentage of boys is involved in serious violence than girls. However, the rate of violence among girls appears to be growing. In Denver, researchers found that the prevalence of serious violence among girls ages 13 to 15 is more than half that of boys. In Rochester, more girls (18 percent) reported committing serious violence at age 13 than boys (16 percent).
Selective Bibliography on the Program of Research on the Causes and Correlates of Delinquency
- Early warning signs of disruptive behaviors must not be dismissed. Rather than assuming that these behaviors will pass, teachers, parents, and mental health practitioners need to recognize that disruptive behavior should be taken seriously. Interventions will be more successful if the child has not already begun moving along pathways toward more serious delinquent activity.
- Children who are victims of maltreatment must be identified early and receive treatment. These studies reinforce what has already been known from previous studies -- that children who are victims of abuse and/or neglect are more likely to have problems when they become older, including involvement in violent delinquency.
- Parents, schools, mental health practitioners, and the juvenile justice community need to work together to comprehensively screen and treat children at risk of developing serious disruptive behaviors. Teachers and parents must communicate regularly regarding problems the child is experiencing. Schools need to use mental health practitioners and coordinate with the juvenile justice system to ensure that disruptive children receive intervention as early as possible. A critical link in service is needed (but often is lacking) between the fields of mental health and juvenile justice. Recognizing this need, OJJDP initiated the Mental Health/Juvenile Justice Initiative in 1997 to support several projects that enhance collaboration between the mental health and juvenile justice systems. Through this initiative, OJJDP is supporting the work of several other Federal agencies involved in enhancing mental health research and services to at-risk youth, particularly those in the juvenile justice system. Specific projects include:
- Providing funds to the Center for Mental Health Services (CMHS), U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, to support technical assistance for existing CMHS sites. This support is designed to strengthen the sites' capacity to provide mental health services for youth in the juvenile justice system and to include these youth in the continuum of care being created in the sites.
- Supporting the development of Guidelines for Psychiatric Systems of Care for Adolescents in the Juvenile Justice System, which is being prepared by the American Academy of Child Psychiatry. This publication will include early identification protocols and models of diversion and will document the best principles for systems of care for youth with serious emotional disturbances who are involved in the juvenile justice system.
- Joining the National Institute of Corrections to provide technical assistance to a program for dually diagnosed juvenile offenders.
- Working with the National Institute of Mental Health to support the expansion of the Multi-Site, Multimodal Treatment Study of Children with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. The expansion is enabling researchers to identify the contact that research participants have had with the juvenile justice system.
Kelley, B.T., Huizinga, D., Thornberry, T.P., and Loeber, R. 1997. Epidemiology of Serious Violence. Bulletin. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention.
Kelley, B.T., Loeber, R., Keenan, K., and DeLamatre, M. 1997. Developmental Pathways in Boys' Disruptive and Delinquent Behavior. Bulletin. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention.
Kelley, B.T., Thornberry, T.P., and Smith, C.A. 1997. In the Wake of Childhood Maltreatment. Bulletin. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention.
Thornberry, T.P., and Burch, J.H., II. 1997. Gang Members and Delinquent Behavior. Bulletin. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention.
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