Study Asks, Which Onset Behaviors Best Predict Juvenile Delinquency?

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A new study in the Journal of Criminal Justice  examined the relationship between onset juvenile antisocial behavior and career delinquency, with researchers citing arrests and other police contacts as the most likely indicators of future criminality for adolescents.

Researchers analyzed 252 young people — 152 boys and 100 girls — in juvenile placement in Pennsylvania. Measuring three types of “antisocial onsets” — onset of law violations and rule-breaking, onset of arrest or other police contacts and onset of referral to juvenile courts — researchers conducted various “head-to-head” tests to determine which type of onset behavior was most consistently associated with long-term delinquency.

Using self-reports, researchers collected onset behavior data, additionally assessing young people for psychopathy with the Youth Psychopathic Traits Inventory (YPI) instrument. Among the subjects, researchers indicated that 130 young people — a little more than half the entire population studied — reported diagnoses of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) or conduct disorder (CD).

Researchers found that a quarter of respondents reported law-violating behaviors by the age of 10, with more than four-fifths of subjects reporting law-breaking behaviors by the time they were 14. About 15 percent of subjects reported being arrested by the time they had turned 10 years old, with about 18 percent of respondents reporting arrests by the age of 14.

“By age 11 years, nearly 9 percent of the youths had been formally processed by the juvenile court,” the report concludes. “Expectedly, the modal juvenile court onset years were ages 13 years (19.4 percent of sample), age 14 years (17.4 percent of sample) or age 15 years (24.3 percent of sample) — the same as arrest onset.”

Photo by Jo Naylor |

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