Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Study: Most violent juvie offenders don't become antisocial adults

Frustrated by state Sen. Tommy Williams insistence that the Texas Youth Commission refuse parole to juveniles who committed violent crimes, I was particularly interested to run across this article by U of Maryland Professor John Laub detailing results of the largest-ever longitudinal study of "serious, persistent juvenile offenders" vs. non-delinquent youth, analyzing criminal records and behavior from age 14 to 70. The findings include this hopeful result:
although there is a link between juvenile delinquency and adult crime, many of the delinquents in our follow-up study amended their behavior in adulthood. Individual change is not only possible, but appears to occur quite frequently. Therefore, although studies show that antisocial behavior in children is one of the best predictors of antisocial behavior in adults, most antisocial children do not become antisocial as adults.
So most delinquent kids do not grow up to be anti-social adults (though often they continued committing crimes during their 20s). That's an important finding that runs counter to Sen. Williams notion that incarcerating kids long-term improves public safety. The idea that a teenager should serve a 30 or 40 year sentence for offenses committed in their youth cannot be supported by these data. In all likelihood, such a policy would simply delay or even hinder the maturation process offenders must go through before they cease their antisocial tendencies.

What makes the difference between kids who commit crimes as adults and those who "grow out of" their delinquent phase? Wrote Laub,
We found that, up to age 32, job stability and marital attachment in adulthood are significantly related to changes in adult crime; the stronger the adult ties to work and family, the less crime and deviance among both delinquent and nondelinquent youth
These results perhaps do not surprise us, but they are important. They tell me the most important public safety factor may not be how long someone is incarcerated but how soon thereafter they settle down to raise a family and whether they find gainful employment. Marriage, job structure and daily routine are important facets of transforming delinquents into law abiding adults, said Laub. A key
component in the desistance process is gaining structure in life. The men who desisted from crime shared a daily routine that provided both structure and meaningful activity. Structure often led the men to disassociate from delinquent peers, a major factor in abandoning crime
Here's yet another example where stronger community supervision may produce more crime reducing impacts than long-term incarceration. Do current TYC parole policies ensure juveniles ending their incarceration will enter a structured, disciplined environment, or do we more or less just cut them loose? After all, everyone but a handful of offenders will eventually get out of prison, no matter how long their sentence. This study supplies evidence that, whenever they get out, the most important factor regarding whether they re-offend is whether they enter a structured environment upon release.

Finally, directly refuting Sen. Williams' hawkish stance favoring long-term incarceration for violent youth offenders, Laub wrote:
What is ... striking from our life histories is that there appears to be no major differences in the process of desistance for nonviolent and violent juvenile offenders.
So most juvenile offenders won't remain life-long criminals, and violent youth, according to this data, are no less likely to desist from criminal behavior than nonviolent ones. Then what's the point of sentencing juveniles to prison for decades? Bottom line, whether offenders cease committing crimes mostly has to do with whether they're able to break away from bad influences and restructure their lives in a positive way:
Although there are multiple pathways to desistance, there appears to be some important general processes or mechanisms of desistance at work. The four significant factors that we have found in our follow-up study are marriage and spouses, the military, work, and neighborhood change. What appears to be important about these processes is that they all involve, to varying degrees, the following items: a knifing off of the past from the present; new situations that provide both supervision and monitoring as well as new opportunities of social support and growth.
Throughout the debates this year about the Texas Youth Commission I've heard very little reference to evidence-based strategies as the agency was supposedly being reinvented, even though there's plenty of research out there to tell us what works and what does not. Instead, decisions too often have been based on emotionalism, grandstanding and media hype. That's true in this case. Sen. Williams' stance probably plays well in the polls, but his blustering provides a poor basis for deciding what juvenile justice policies actually reduce crime.

Via Prevention Works.


Anonymous said...

Sorry Grits, but you're being too intelligent and thoughtful. The senator and others are playing on peoples' fears and people are afraid of being robbed, raped and murdered. They learn of the teens who have committed such crimes and they WANT to hear that those criminals are behind bars for life. They look to their elected leaders to DO SOMETHING to protect them from these out-of-control animals. Who cares if they're teenagers? They're old enough to know right from wrong! You're just a weak-on-crime bleeding heart liberal. Probably a Socialist, too.

If you don't believe me then just watch FOX "News" or listen to Limbaugh, O'Reilly, et. al.

Scared people aren't rational. They don't want to hear about intellectual university studies about how the poor, abused, underpriveleged, minority kids need a break and should be excused from the consequences of a crime they chose to committ. The senator knows that and is saying exactly what his constituents want to hear.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

That may be so. But even I don't argue that "poor, abused, underprivileged, minority kids need a break and should be excused from the consequences of a crime they chose to commit." Whether an offender is black, white, green, rich or poor is irrelevant to me. My point is that Williams' approach may actually increase the chance people are "robbed, raped and murdered" by ignoring the process by which youth offenders transform into non-offenders as adults.

Anonymous said...

Hey, you're preaching to the choir!

Anonymous said...

We are all "preaching to the choir". That's O.K. I share this knowledge with my friends. I hope other readers do the same when they hear comments about the fear mongering offered by the MSM.

I hope everyone else does the same. In time it will make a difference. Everyone should be working to swing the pendelum away from punishment and toward rehabilitation. After all, we're talking about real people with real lives.

Anonymous said...

Maybe Sen. Williams ain't edutated enuff to understand empirical evidence. Unbelievable!

Anonymous said...

Unbelievable? 3:24 has got to be speaking with tongue firmly implanted in cheek; this is Texas, where a legislator wanted to add the death penalty to options for 13 year olds.
I am just waiting for a return to the old testament (that is the first section of the good book for you heathens); stonings, cutting off of body parts etc. (you might note that the old testament does not set age limits either... could get interesting to see the blood spurt when a toddler takes a grape off the counter at supermarket) Makes me wonder why "they" rail so much against the Taliban when their sense of right and wrong are so similar. Of course, if you use Houston as an example, consent/bribe/sexual assault/coercion and abuse of power are all the same anyway, as long as you are a cop. Also keep in mind that this is the same legislature that chose to exclude a 17 year old regularly banging his 13 year old "girlfriend" from inclusion in the 25 year sentences for sex offending as a serial offender.
In fairness, "they" have a point. If you give life sentences to all offenders the first time,regardless of crime, there are never any recidivists.
As far back as Menninger's The Crime of Punishment, the idea that a)people who commit crimes are losers because they can't succeed when doing something legally b) if caught, they have demonstrated incompetence even as criminals c) if convicted they were not successful enough in the past to have stockpiled enough money for a lawyer or they were too stupid to convince the judge they just made a mistake (see Senator Hinojosa/firearm/airport)d) go to jail/prison instead of probation (see all of the above). Now, per Menninger, this historic failure gets out with the added title of ex-con and for some reason, nobody has an interest in hiring him (see "a").
(can't promise, but probable last comment for today). Can we PLEASE use the same process for Legislators? I.e., they are failures or would have real jobs, failed at being legislators, ergo they cannot run, much less get elected in the future (nor can their 1st thru 22nd born child)... unless somebody happens to have a few stones lying around... contrary to Houston police, I did not give consent and I have most assuredly been screwed by the legislature...

Anonymous said...

One of the two key factors mentioned in this study is the ability to hold employment. A few years ago, TYC began training youth for certification in welding. Some of the worst offenders were trained and then taken to San Antonio to take the certification test. Guess what, at least at the unit where I work, all of those who were certified stayed out of trouble. I commend the teacher who got that started. That should give some folks some clues about what approaches we should take towards rehabilitation. Maybe vocational skills training and pre-marriage counseling might be a good start? These are kids! Give them a chance, to change, encourage them to change and give them the tools they need to be successful, and then if they screw up and continue anti-social behavior, at least we know we did our best, and at least we know that we turned some of them around. Old Salty

Anonymous said...

Well, consider for a moment how zero tolerance in our schools is creating a new breed of criminals. Common sense has wings.

Anonymous said...

I am completely disgusted with these legislators! If I remember correctly, SB 103 passed without a single dissent. Evidently this senator (along with others) didn't read it before he voted.
What they voted into law specifically requires TYC to release youth based upon a need for rehabilitation - there is absolutely no room in the law this man just voted for a few months ago for TYC to consider the youth's original offense - just like they left the agency no choice but to release 19 year old sentenced offenders regardless of how much time they had actually been in TYC. They then have the nerve to complain about the agency following the law they passed. Maybe the collective brain trust that is the Texas legislature should have taken a few minutes away from reading their names in the headlines to read the laws they passed.

whitsfoe said...

Wow, that's good information. But I think it’s prudent for communities to structure and clean up their environments which many of our commitments will return ... so once again, I ask, WHAT ARE YOU DOING DALLAS/HOUSTON to address this issue? If we are reforming them and returning them to communities that haven’t addressed the issues in their communities, like guys such as Guvnah Henson tagging H20 towers, what would you expect?

Communities, especially the large ones, need funding, and we could certainly tie in parole conditions into their returning to these communities so long as services are available. I think some exist, and we're just learning about these options. But all communities need this, including access to services out west, where all the weird shit happens. JMO 

Anonymous said...

I think 4:13 said it best

"I did not give consent and I have most assuredly been screwed by the legislature..."

And 6:12 iced the cake with:

Maybe the collective brain trust that is the Texas legislature should have taken a few minutes away from reading their names in the headlines to read the laws they passed.

Man, these views on Grits just get better and better.

Anonymous said...

I have developed a serious addiction - to Grits! I read it in the morning before going to work, at lunch and in the evenings at home. Man, I gotta get a life! But most of this stuff is too good!

Anonymous said...

Why can't TYC contract with local non-profits and direct service providers in the urban areas where kids are returning to provide them some structure that they can be attached to when they are back in their chaotic communities, instead of just hoping those services are already somewhere and available?

As you know, the kids that end up at TYC were last on every politician's list, which is why most of them end up there in the first place. My experience is that even when services exist in the county of origin, kids coming back from TYC are not viewed as the best "investment" by community organizations that can choose who they give their services to.

The counties will not be able to just "clean up" their acts for these kids, but I am hoping that the TYC parole will become a more structured and meaningful process that will give kids a better chance to succeed, even if they are returning to a home deep in the heart of the urban ghetto.

Wonderful research piece, Scott! Thank you for all your great work.

Anonymous said...

can someone out there get the blue ribbon panel report? i am thinking about requesting under the freedom of information act. i have been given the information that my job will be on the line if i do so.

secrecy, and improper use of power are characteristics of a negative and delinquent subculture.

if we have these values modeled from the top, then they will be the qualities modeled all the way to the bottom. in this case, the bottom is the the delinquent youth of texas.

starting to be disillusioned about texas

Anonymous said...

If you're talking about the blue ribbon panel that met at UT, I was under the impression that it hadn't yet issued a report.

Grits, do you know about this? I too am curious to see it.

Bill Bush, UNLV

Gritsforbreakfast said...

The word is there's a draft of the blue ribbon report that's not final, but it will be out this month. I forget where I heard that, but that's my recollection.

More immediately, Jim Hurley told me that this week we're also supposed to see the Q&A document prepared from questions at the State of the Agency briefings and from Grits readers. Thanks for the responses, folks!

Anonymous said...

Owens said there's zero telerance for missing a deadline. What's Hurley's excuse? Oh that's right, he's a crony, I guess it doesn't apply to him.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

If Mr. Owens said that about deadlines, my response would be to ask him where is his conservator's report? The law says he must produce one every 60 days. The least one was May 2, meaning he's >41 days late right now. By September 2 he'll be two months late with the statutorily mandated report.

Zero Tolerance for missing deadlines?!! Puhleeze! Take the beam out of thine own eye, Mr. Owens, as Christ might advise you, then perhaps you'll see clearly to remove the mote from your brethren's.

Anonymous said...

Are you sure he has not given them a report and that it is just not being made public?

We have to remember Mr. Owens appears to have less interest in the spotlight than the former Special Master.

Anonymous said...

They will be giving a status report to the Legislature this week.