Research Reports that Youth Offenses, Sentences, Predict Little about Recidivism

Data emerging from a seven years’ study of young offenders suggest that the nature of a serious juvenile crime or the length of time served for it, does not do a very good job predicting if a youth will re-offend. “Burglars are not all the same, neither are car thieves or assaulters,” said Edward Mulvey, professor of psychiatry at the University of Pittsburgh. “Just because they’ve done a certain type of offense doesn’t mean they’re on a particular path to continued high offending or more serious offending.”

“The way you code a presenting offense, you can do it violent or not violent, property or not property, you can do it a lot of ways; it never comes out as a real strong predictor of outcome,” Mulvey said, explaining some of his latest analysis. Once a juvenile is in state custody, the length of stay appears to have nothing to do with the recidivism rate, said Thomas Loughran, of the University of Maryland’s Department of Criminology and Criminal Justice. He worked on that issue with the Pathways data by comparing two similar groups of youth. “The more [time] we gave them, it didn’t make any difference, there was no effect” on recidivism, he reported, though cautioning that the bulk of the kids in the study served between three and 13 months. Further, Loughran said his numbers show “no significant difference” in the re-arrest rate for offenders who served probation versus detention.

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