Juvenile offenders often released into risky environments, study says

October 26, 2010 By Seth Odell, University of California Los Angeles

Roughly 100,000 juvenile offenders are released each year from U.S. correctional facilities and reenter the community, but little research has been done on the types of neighborhoods they end up in, including the risks they face and the types of resources available to them.

A new study by researchers at the UCLA School of Public Affairs and the Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation's Prevention Research Center (PRC) helps fill this gap, measuring the rate of juvenile offenders released into each of Los Angeles County's 272 ZIP codes and examining specific neighborhood-level factors that could play a significant role in their reintegration or recidivism.

The study, funded by a grant from the National Institute on and Alcoholism was recently published in the peer-reviewed Journal of the Society for Social Work and Research.

Researchers examined reentry information for some 4,400 juvenile offenders who had served sentences in one of the county's 18 probation camps and who had been released in 2007. They found that reentry rates were greater in those ZIP codes characterized by higher levels of community violence (measured by per capita assaults) and greater densities of off-premise alcohol outlets and vacant housing. The study also found a greater rate of reentry in ZIP codes with lower levels of education services and , including substance-abuse programs.

Previous research has shown that a high density of off-premise , including liquour stores, is associated with a variety of youth problems, as well as higher rates of adult crime, and that vacant housing is associated with increased rates of assaults among both youth and adults.

The researchers also found greater reentry rates in ZIP codes with higher levels of racial and ethnic minority residents — a finding that was not unexpected, researchers said, given the disproportionate numbers of poor and minority youth involved in all aspects of the juvenile justice system. 

In a separate pilot study conducted in two Los Angeles County probation camps in 2007, 93 percent of youths surveyed said they planned to return to the same neighborhoods they lived in prior to incarceration. And studies conducted on juvenile corrections in various parts of the U.S. have found that over half, and even up to 70 percent, of released juvenile offenders return to the criminal justice system within two years of release. Given these findings, the authors suggest that more attention be focused on interventions that seek to alter the neighborhood structure in which reentry occurs.

"When neighborhood environments include a culture of violence, young people may be influenced to participate in violence as a means of survival or to protect themselves or their families," said study co-author Bridget Freisthler, an assistant professor of social welfare at the UCLA School of Public Affairs and an affiliated research scientist at the PRC. "If we want to influence the future behavior of these young people who have already been in trouble with the law, it may be much more effective to try to change these neighborhoods rather than trying to change the mindset of individual youth."

Such a shift — focusing more directly on how neighborhoods structure opportunities for returning youth offenders rather than exclusively on individualized probation services for these offenders — would mark a fundamental change in the way probation departments and other social service providers approach the issue of youth reentering the community following incarceration.

Should Los Angeles County — home to the nation's largest juvenile probation system — invest further in neighborhood prevention approaches, researchers believe they could ultimately see a reduction in recidivism rates among area youth, as well as positive gains such as increased engagement in school and work.

While further research is required to test these hypotheses, study co-author Laura Abrams, a UCLA associate professor of social welfare, sees this study as a first step in better understanding how neighborhoods structure opportunities for returning youthful offenders.

"We are well aware of the fact that young people must overcome major challenges in order to be successful when they return to their community," Abrams said. "This study can help us reframe our prevention efforts to include the neighborhood environment in a more comprehensive approach."

More information: www.jsswr.org/article/view/5745

Related Stories

Recommended for you

Sweet, bitter, fat: New study reveals impact of genetics on how kids snack

February 22, 2018
Whether your child asks for crackers, cookies or veggies to snack on could be linked to genetics, according to new findings from the Guelph Family Health Study at the University of Guelph.

The good and bad health news about your exercise posts on social media

February 22, 2018
We all have that Facebook friend—or 10—who regularly posts photos of his or her fitness pursuits: on the elliptical at the gym, hiking through the wilderness, crossing a 10K finish line.

Smartphones are bad for some teens, not all

February 21, 2018
Is the next generation better or worse off because of smartphones? The answer is complex and research shows it largely depends on their lives offline.

Tackling health problems in the young is crucial for their children's future

February 21, 2018
A child's growth and development is affected by the health and lifestyles of their parents before pregnancy - even going back to adolescence - according to a new study by researchers at the Murdoch Children's Research Institute, ...

Lead and other toxic metals found in e-cigarette 'vapors': study

February 21, 2018
Significant amounts of toxic metals, including lead, leak from some e-cigarette heating coils and are present in the aerosols inhaled by users, according to a study from scientists at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public ...

Why teens need up to 10 hours' sleep

February 21, 2018
Technology, other distractions and staying up late make is difficult, but researchers say teenagers need to make time for 8-10 hours of sleep a night to optimise their performance and maintain good health and wellbeing.


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.