Friends of the Forensic Science Club, this week we present the paper “Psychosocial and Personality Characteristics of Juvenile Offenders in a Detention Centre regarding Recidivism Risk” by Cacho, R.; Fernández-Montalvo, J.; López-Goñi, J. J.; Arteaga, A. and Haro, B. (2020), in which authors carry out a study to know the different profiles of young offenders in detention centres, focusing in recidivism.
We consider juvenile delinquency as a serious problem that affects us all, since one of the worries of society should be how to protect young people from being both victims and perpetrators of crimes.
The juvenile offense rate is very high: 80% of adolescents have committed at least one criminal act in their life (from minor to serious ones).
In the search for explanatory reasons for the phenomenon, different actors have been associated with criminal behavior, both personal (such as impulsivity) and related to school, family or friends.
Previous literature suggests that young minors convicted because of criminal offenses have socialization problems, deficits in emotional intelligence, and inadequate coping strategies.
In addition, an important characteristic that has to do with recidivism is that crimes they commit are progressively more serious and frequent. This would be promoted by peer pressure, gang membership, lack of autonomy when solving problems or impulsiveness.
Youth at high risk of recidivism have also been suggested to have higher rates of school failure and conduct disorder, as well as poor social skills, compared to offenders at low risk of recidivism.
Other factors that, in principle, influence the criminal recidivism of young people would be the family (family violence, drug addiction, labor or economic difficulties), as well as the lack of adherence to intervention programs.
The Spanish juvenile justice system, which is the one used in the context of the study (Navarra, Spain), establishes that juvenile offenders are those who have committed a crime between the ages of 14 and 18. For them, internment in detention centers is foreseen when the crime committed is of a serious nature and is characterized by violence, intimidation, or by putting other people in danger. The objective of these centers is to punish offenders, but also to facilitate the educational intervention necessary for their social reintegration.
In Spain, the recidivism rate is 62-70% for those who have served custodial sentences. It is a much higher rate than the one of those who have served sentences in open settings, which is 22-27%.
Therefore, authors consider necessary an exhaustive evaluation of the factors that predict criminal recidivism and also to study the specific profile of juvenile offenders who are in detention centers.
Authors decide to carry out a study whose objective is to describe juvenile offenders serving judicial sentences in the only detention center in Navarra, Spain.
To do this, they take a sample of 102 juvenile offenders to carefully study each one of their cases.
Obtained results reveal relatively low levels of risk of recidivism in the subjects studied. None of the adolescents presented a significantly high level of risk, being for the majority from low to moderate. These results contrast with the rates of criminal recidivism found in other studies about minors, according to which two out of every three reoffend. Therefore, it is necessary that future studies evaluate to what extent the previous literature corresponds to the Spanish context.
Most of the minors had problems related to education, both in the academic and family spheres, and previous contact with social services. It is necessary to point out that the school and the family constitute the main axes of socialization of children and adolescents. On the contrary, positive school experiences and family support are protective factors that help minimize criminal behavior.
The young people presented mainly four personality traits: rebellious, dramatic, selfish, and forceful. They also exhibited a high degree of social insensitivity. There was a high predisposition to crime and substance use.
Adolescents with a higher risk of recidivism have more personal characteristics (health problems, low self-esteem, poor social skills, difficulty solving problems, violent history), social (family history of alcoholism or other drug abuse) and school problems than those who have a lower risk.
In addition, these young people with a higher risk of recidivism are less submissive, have a more negative own body image and less social sensitivity. There would be a greater inclination to substance abuse, greater predisposition to delinquency, feelings of anxiety and eating disorders.
Therefore, intervention programs must assess the presence of a history of prior violent behavior and develop specific measures to train problem-solving skills and promote adequate academic performance.
One of the limitations of the study, is the small size of the sample, and that it only addresses a population in a very specific context: juvenile offenders in detention centers in Navarra, Spain. For future research, authors point out that it would be interesting to expand the sample.
Found data support the idea that specific educational interventions are necessary in juvenile detention centers with the aim of providing these adolescents with skills that allow them to reintegrate into society and reduce the probability of recidivism. To do this, understanding the specific characteristics of these people at higher risk would be essential.
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