Friends of the Forensic Science Club, this week we present the paper “Psycholinguistic and socioemotional characteristics of young offenders: do language abilities and gender matter?”, by Winstanley, M.; Webb, R. T. and Conti-Ramsden, G. (2022), in which authors carry out a study to know how the lack of language skills may be related to an increase in the tendency of offend in young people.
Juvenile delinquency is a serious and costly problem for society, which also generates fear in citizens. For this reason, careful consideration of the issue and an understanding of the factors that are related to the tendency to offend, including the psycholinguistic and socioemotional characteristics of young people who become involved in delinquency, are necessary.
Language in particular, provides a focus for identifying distressed groups in youth offender profiles, whether or not they are diagnosed with developmental language disorders.
This knowledge can inform both policy and practice in rehabilitation planning and strategies.
Developmental language disorder refers to significant and persistent problems in understanding and/or using spoken language. These problems won’t be associated with other difficulties, such as a hearing impairment or autism spectrum disorder.
Recent evidence has highlighted an association between delinquency and language development disorder that persists even after controlling for possible confounding factors such as socioeconomic status and/or years of schooling.
In the scarce previous literature on the subject, the deficits shown by juvenile delinquents in language-based tasks have been assessed from different points of view: form, content, or language use from the word to the sentence and discourse level have been taken into account. As a result, it has been shown that approximately 50% of juvenile delinquents have language deficits that would justify a diagnosis of developmental language disorder, without having been previously recognized.
Authors suggest that young people with a history of delinquency may be more likely to exhibit a developmental language disorder due to reduced effectiveness of the rehabilitation methods used.
In this study, the authors determine the language skills of a group of first-time offenders, also examining nonverbal skills.
On the other hand, it is interesting to note that difficulties with reading have been linked to behavioral problems in childhood, having to do with both behavioral dominance and hyperactivity.
A 2000 study found that the young offenders surveyed had a reading level 11.3 years below their chronological age. In addition, reading comprehension has been noted as a predictor of recidivism in groups of youth between the ages of 16 and 19, as low alphabetization may limit a person’s ability to access formal justice documentation.
On the other hand, behavioral problems in childhood have been associated with adult delinquency.
In addition, the literature related to the prevalence of developmental language disorder in children exhibiting conduct problems, raises concerns regarding the referral of children to rehabilitation services that pay little attention to language skills.
The authors felt it appropriate to include the variable of gender in their study, since, as a general rule, there are fewer young females than males in the justice system, and experts tended to conduct analyses with both groups together.
The sample included 145 young people, 112 males and 33 females. Participants were assessed in 1 or 2 1-hour sessions in which parents and staff were encouraged to participate. Psycholinguistic, socioemotional, and contextual measures were obtained through scientifically valid tests and scales.
87 of the juvenile offenders who participated in the study met the criteria for the diagnosis of a developmental language disorder. It was equally frequent in males (58%) as in females (67%).
The majority of participants with developmental language disorder, regardless of gender, showed severe language difficulties, and only 2 reported having previously accessed services related to speech therapy. This lack of identification of language needs is a cause for concern, especially when considering potential opportunities for its treatment to function as a protective factor against delinquency.
There were also no significant gender differences in the psycholinguistic and socioemotional profiles of male and female juvenile offenders, except for higher levels of general emotional difficulty in females.
It should be noted that most of the participants commented that they found it very difficult to read, and in fact, 19 of them abandoned the reading comprehension tasks because they could not answer correctly.
What these data reveal to us is, in short, that young offenders with developmental language disorder are at a greater disadvantage than those without.
Authors point out the need for language assessment and the identification of language developmental disorder as a crucial part of criminal justice services and a potential priority that may be useful in intervention with juvenile offenders.
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