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Profile of incarcerated juveniles: comparison of male and female offenders.


It is becoming increasingly important to understand the characteristics of juvenile offenders in order to decrease and prevent juvenile delinquency (Jenson, Potter, & Howard, 2001; Snyder & Sickmund, 2006). According to FBI 2004 arrest statistics, juveniles committed 15.5% of violent crimes and 27.5% of property crimes (Puzzanchera, Adams, Snyder, & Kang, 2006). In 2002, juvenile offenders were involved in 8% of all murders, and the data surrounding violent juvenile crime indicates a recent escalating trend (Snyder & Sickmund, 2006). These statistics provide a small sample of the evidence that juvenile crime is a complicated and important issue and that methods must be developed to prevent juveniles from or continuing their offending behavior into adulthood.

Many researchers believe there is a strong link between juvenile delinquency, mental health problems, and traumatic experiences (Baer & Maschi, 2003; Cauffman, Feldman, Waterman, & Steiner, 1998; Dixon, Howie, & Starling, 2004; Ritakallio, Kaltiala-Heino, Kivivuori, Luukkaala, & Rimpela, 2006). Social cognitive functioning in seriously delinquent youth is often deficient due to trauma experienced early in childhood and adolescence. The most serious offenders enter the juvenile justice system with histories that include physical and sexual abuse, witnessing violent acts, parental substance abuse and neglect, and numerous mental health, developmental, and emotional issues (Baer & Maschi, 2003; Dixon, Howie, & Starling, 2005; Jenson et al., 2001).

Snyder and Sickmund (2006) revealed that a significantly large number of juveniles reported assaulting someone with the intention of inflicting serious harm. Others display such behaviors as running away from home, selling drugs, or stealing something worth more than $50. In addition, juveniles with foster care experience and other negative home environments are significantly more likely to engage in delinquent activities earlier than are juvenile offenders without such backgrounds (Alitucker, Bullis, Close, & Yovanoff, 2006; Caldwell, Beutler, Sturges, & Silver, 2006; Leve & Chamberlain, 2004).

Negative experiences during childhood and early adolescence are not the only factors that appear to be linked to juvenile delinquency. A number of studies show that delinquency is related to depression; between 10% and 30% of incarcerated juveniles portray symptoms of major depression (Caufmann et al., 1998; Leve & Chamberlain, 2004; Ritakallio et al., 2006). High rates of drug and other substance abuse were reported in several samples of incarcerated youth (Brook, Whiteman, Finch, & Cohen, 1996; Jensen et al., 2001).

Additionally, some incarcerated adolescents and young adults display personality characteristics associated with some types of conduct disorder including antisocial behavior, poor impulse control, unexpressed emotions, and little remorse. These individuals are more likely to commit violent crimes (Loper, Hoffschmidt, & Ash, 2001). School failure is also associated with juvenile delinquency (Jenson et al., 2001; Mann & Reynolds, 2006).

Male Juvenile Offenders

Many factors are believed to lead male juveniles down the path to delinquency. Statistics show that ethnic and racial minority youths are twice as likely to commit violent acts as white male youths (Jensen et al., 2001; Maschi, 2006). Trauma is listed as a consistent factor related to male juvenile delinquency (Dixon et al., 2005; Lenssen et al., 2002; Maschi, 2006). Stressful life events often lead male juveniles to engage in violent offending (Caufmann et al., 1998; Maschi, 2006). Over 50% of male victims of child maltreatment become serious juvenile offenders before the age of 12 (Maschi, 2006; Alitucker et al., 2006).

Traumatic experiences can lead to psychopathology and depression in male adolescents, and research indicates that mental health problems and depression can be associated with repeated delinquency (Caufmann et al., 1998; Maschi, 2006; Ritakallio et al., 2006). In some categories of delinquent acts studied (violence, vandalism, and shoplifting), depressed males were five times more likely to repeat these acts than were non-depressed males. In addition, depressed male juveniles tended to be versatile and violent offenders.

Family factors related to under-socialization such as single-parent families and stepfamilies, separation from a biological parent, and stressed parent-child relationships place children with these family experiences at high risk for engaging in delinquent acts (Coughlin & Vuchinich, 1996). These researchers examined 194 families with at least one male child and discovered that children in single-mother families and stepfamilies are more than twice as likely to be arrested by age 14 than children living with two biological parents. Correspondingly, parental imprisonment predicts anti-social and delinquent behaviors in male juveniles and continues to impact the adolescent through adulthood (Murray & Farrington, 2005).

Parker, Morton, Lingeleft, and Johnson (2005) examined a group of 132 incarcerated males and found that violent offenses are predicted by poor anger control, low self-esteem, high levels of anxiety, and difficulty controlling impulses and emotions. The authors also propose that prior nonviolent offending is a predictor of serious nonviolent offending. In another study, Moffitt, Lynam, and Silva (1994) administered a battery of assessments to male juvenile offenders, reporting that neuropsychological status predicts male offending before age 13 and continues into adulthood. Neuropsychological status was not found to predict delinquency started after age 13.

Several studies have explored neighborhood factors and serious male juvenile offending (Stouthamer-Loeber, Loeber, Wei, Farrington, & Wikstrom, 2002). One study examined the link between juvenile delinquency and neighborhood socioeconomic context and other various neighborhood characteristics and found that serious delinquency is more concentrated in low SES neighborhoods; forty-one percent of this sample were persistent serious delinquents (Stouthamer et al., 2002).

Female Juvenile Offenders

While much of the research on juvenile delinquency has centered on male juvenile offenders, female delinquency rates are increasing and there is a trend toward crimes that are more serious (Goldstein, Arnold, Weil, Mesiarik, Peuschold, Grissom, & Osamin, 2003; Dixon et al., 2004; Kaker, Freidmann, & Peck, 2002; Jensen et al., 2001). Male juvenile offenders are arrested more than females; however, adolescent female crime rates are increasing at a much greater rate (Hoyt & Scherer, 1998). Until recently, research on female delinquency was rare as compared to male delinquency and is often biased and inadequate, focusing primarily on Caucasian female offenders while eliminating populations and certain kinds of family structures (Hoyt & Scherer, 1998). Reports of female juvenile delinquents suggest that most are "poor, undereducated minority females who have complex histories of trauma and substance abuse (Cauffman et al., 1998; Kakar et al., 2002). The majority of female juvenile offenders have low academic achievement and self-esteem, and little hope for the future (Mullis, Cornille, Mullis, & Huber, 2004).

New studies have found childhood experiences and familial factors such as biological parent criminality and parental transitions as predictors of female juvenile offending (Leve & Chamberlain, 2004; Alitucker et al., 2006). Early unwanted pregnancy and antisocial behavior have also been associated with female juvenile offending (Jenson et al., 2001). Female juvenile offenders are also offending at increasingly younger ages. According to Mullis et al. (2004), when a delinquent begins offending at a young age, the offenses ultimately worsen and become more frequent.

Similar to male juveniles, prevalent in various studies of incarcerated female juveniles were histories of physical and sexual abuse, and child maltreatment (Leve & Chamberlain, 2004). Vandiver and Teske's (2006) study of female juvenile sex offenders revealed that many have been victims of both physical and sexual abuse.

High rates of depression, anxiety, mood disorder, and suicidal ideation are also apparent among this population (Goldstein et al., 2003; Mullis et al., 2004; Kakar et al., 2002). Dixon et al. (2004), found mental health status to be a leading factor related to female juvenile offending, with 83% of their sample meeting criteria for as many as eight psychiatric diagnoses, they also report that female juvenile delinquents have high rates of conduct disorder, anxiety, and depression. In another study, depressed females were three times more likely to commit delinquent acts than were non-depressed female juveniles (Ritakallio et al., 2006).

Comparison of Male and Female Offenders

It is important to recognize the differences in male and female juvenile offenders because identifying these differences produce more effective treatment plans. Male juvenile offenders commit more serious offenses and offend more frequently than female juvenile offenders (Lenssen, Doreleijers, van Dijk, & Hartman, 2000; Snyder & Sickmund, 2006; Goldstein et al., 2003; Kakar et al., 2002). However, female juvenile offending has increased at a higher rate in all major offense categories (Smith & Smith, 2005; Calhoun, Glaser, & Bartolomucci, 2001; Mullis et al., 2004). In addition, male juvenile homicide offenders decreased substantially between 1994 and 2002 while the number of female juvenile homicide offenders stayed at an extremely high level (Snyder & Sickmund, 2006).

Jenson et al. (2001) verify that female juvenile offenders are more likely to have histories of abuse compared to male juvenile offenders with 85% experiencing physical abuse and 61% experiencing sexual abuse. Additionally, incarcerated females attempt suicide more frequently. The authors also noted that 84% of females report mental health symptoms compared to 27% of males. In a study evaluating the emotional reactivity and empathy/guilt of incarcerated youth, Loper, Hoffschmidt, and Ash (2001) reported no gender differences for these characteristics. However, the authors did find that female juvenile offenders were more likely to show concern about childhood abuse, signs of eating disorders, and feelings of insecurity among peers.

Exposure to trauma and trauma-related psychopathology occur regularly during adolescence for both male and female juvenile offenders (Dixon et al., 2005). Family structure tends to be an explanatory factor as well in determining juvenile delinquency for both male and female adolescents (Dixon et al., 2005; Kakar et al., 2002). However, the effect of trauma may be more detrimental to female adolescents than to males. One study reported a 67% incidence rate of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in female offenders compared to less than 30% in male offenders (Dixon et al., 2005). Other studies support the findings that female juvenile offenders exhibit considerably more mental health problems than do male juvenile offenders with an 84% female prevalence rate of mental disorders in one study and 87% in another.

Juvenile sexual offenders are increasing and both females and males have similar psychological symptoms, delinquency history, and physical and sexual victimization. However, female and male juvenile sex offenders do differ in age, with the age of the first offender act of females around 14.9 years and males at 13.2 years. In addition, females were found to engage in significantly higher drug use and promiscuity compared to males (Vandiver & Teske, 2006).

Childhood aggression may lead both female and male juvenile offenders to commit delinquent acts (Brook et al., 1996). However, Lenssen et al. (2000) offer an explanation of the differences in offending by noting that they may be due to the ways each express aggression. Aggression tends to peak earlier with girls than boys; girls are less physically aggressive and are more likely to use social manipulation and isolation than resorting to violent acts (Lenssen et al., 2000).


The purpose of this study was to determine the characteristics of adolescent juvenile offenders. This research explored the question of whether, and to what extent, the juvenile offender can be identified before participating in criminal activities. More specifically, the focus was on identifying common characteristics among current juvenile offenders in the following areas: family background, individual goals and achievements, childhood trauma experiences, use of alcohol, drugs, and other substance, frequency and types of offenses. Obtaining a clear profile of offenders may help determine the best practices for treatment and prevention.



The study sample consisted of incarcerated youths from a juvenile detention center in an urban Midwestern city where data were collected. Subjects were 363 juveniles consisting of African American (58%), Caucasian (34%), Hispanic (4%) and other (4%). All of the participants were incarcerated at the center for different lengths of time between the years of 2004 and 2007. The number of admissions differed between females and males as follows: With offenders having two admissions or less, females were the majority (71%) compared to the males (56%); with offenders having 3-12 admissions, the females were considerably fewer (28%) than the males (43%). As to educational levels, most of the females (30%) were in the ninth grade while the majority of males (23%) were in the tenth grade. Only 10 of the participants had officially dropped out of school.

The age range of the participants was from 10-16 years with the mean age of 14.6 years. A comprehensive discussion of the differences between the male and female participants is shown in Table 1.

Instrumentation and Procedures

The Trauma Symptom Checklist for Children (TSCC) was administered at the intake interview. Seven crime categories were identified and the frequency determined for female and male subjects (Table 2). The intake interview also consisted of the following questions: Have you ever been physically abused? Have you ever been sexually abused? Have you ever physically abused another person? Have you ever sexually abused another person? (Table 3.)

Table 4 shows the frequencies of participants wanting to abuse themselves or others.

The Trauma Symptom Checklist for Children (Briere, 1996) is a self-report measure of posttraumatic stress and related psychological symptomatology in children ages 8-16 years who have experienced traumatic events (e.g., physical or sexual abuse, major loss, natural disaster, or witness violence).

The 54-item checklist includes two validity scales (Underresponse and Hyperresponse), six clinical scales (Anxiety, Depression, Anger, Posttraumatic Stress, Dissociation, and Sexual Concerns), and eight critical items. These six scales assess various psychological impacts of conflicts. The raw scores for each scale are converted to a corresponding T score. The T scores determine whether a test can be used (Underresponse and Hyperresponse) and if clinical scales are elevated, the extent to which the child endorsed trauma-related symptoms (Briere & Smith, 1996; Elliot & Briere, 1994; Lanktree & Briere, 1995; Crouch, Smith, Ezzell, & Saunders, 1999; Sadowski & Friederich, 2000).

The TSCC scales are internally consistent (alphas range from .77 to .89 in the standardization sample) and exhibit reasonable convergent, discriminate, and predictive validity in normative and clinical samples. The TSCC was standardized on a group of over 3,000 inner-city urban and suburban children and adolescents from the general population. Data from trauma and child abuse centers are also provided.

Results of the TSCC. The terms Underresponse and Hyperresponse are used to describe the validity of the test. Sometimes instead of refusing to take the test, a child will indiscriminately mark 0s or 3s on items that usually do not receive an answer of Never or Almost All the Time. If an individual receives a T score of 70 or higher for the Underresponse scale, the test is considered invalid. If an individual receives a T score of 90 or higher for the Hyperresponse scale, the test is also considered invalid. Table 5 describes the frequency of invalid tests due to Underresponse and Hyperresponse "cut off' scores. Additionally, if the subject does not answer 5 or more of the test items, the test should be considered invalid as well.

Results of the Clinical and Subscale T Score. Differences in elevated T scores between male and female incarcerated youth are listed in Table 6.

Both female and male juveniles received higher T scores in the categories of depression, sexual concerns, sexual preoccupation, and sexual distress. Females also obtained nearly twice as many elevated anger T scores. Males received higher T scores than females on the clinical scale fantasy.


The results of this study indicate some of the basic characteristics of a juvenile offender and appear to clarify data from other studies. Table 7 displays these characteristics. Our population was primarily African American who were often living in poverty. Most of the sample was nearly 14 years of age and listed as near grade level in school. Males were more likely to be multiple offenders who would continually leave and reenter the justice system. Many of our offenders had committed violent crimes such as assault and carried weapons. They are truant from school and regularly miss probation appointments.

Female offenders report high rates of sexual and physical abuse and their elevated T scores on the TSCC denote sexual distress. Nearly 18% of males also report being physically abused. Since most statistics indicate that the child abuse rate is 48.3 per 1,000 children, our sample has an abnormal response rate (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Administration on Children, Youth, and Families, 2007). Unfortunately, physical abuse often initiates an angry response from victims, and nearly 25% of our sample admits to sometimes wanting to hurt others. In a similar response pattern to abuse, nearly 155 participants report elevated t scores in depressive symptoms.


This study was limited to an area of nearly one million people but would not be considered a major city. In addition, this urban area has both a high poverty and unemployment rate among African Americans and may not represent other cities in the U.S. Further, the city in our study has been listed in several federal crime studies in recent years as having among the highest female homicide rates.

This study provides several areas of potential research. Our subjects indicate a high rate of physical abuse and often appear to be angry with others. Many are poor and depressed, and our female offenders are more likely to be sexually abused and want to hurt themselves. These characteristics have the potential to be assessed both in public health and school system settings. It is our hope that this research can be a starting point for this discussion.


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Reprint requests should be sent to Don Martin, Professor, Department of Counseling and Special Education, Youngstown State University, One University Plaza, Youngstown, Ohio 44555.
Table 1: Characteristics of Study Sample

 Female % Male % Total %
 Sample Sample Sample
 (n = 143) (n = 220) (n = 363)

Mean age, years 14.6 14.7 14.7

African American 77 54 137 62 214 58
Caucasian 54 37 67 31 121 34
Hispanic 5 4 10 10 15 4
Other 7 5 6 6 13 4

Number of admissions
0-2 102 71 123 56 225 64
3-5 35 25 69 31 104 28
6-9 6 4 25 11 31 1
10-12 0 0 3 2 3

Education Level
Drop Out 4 3 6 3 10
Not Enrolled 0 0 6 3 6
Life Skills 4 3 9 4 13
First- Fifth Grade 0 0 2 1 2
Sixth Grade 7 5 10 5 17
Seventh Grade 14 10 14 7 28
Eighth Grade 23 16 44 21 67
Ninth Grade 42 29 49 23 91
Tenth Grade 24 17 50 23 74
Eleventh Grade 17 12 19 9 36
Twelfth Grade 2 1 3 1 5

Table 2: Frequency of Crimes Charged

Type of Crime Crimes Included

Violent crimes Domestic violence, assault, felonious
against people assault, assault of a police officer,

Other crimes Theft, robbery, possession of a deadly
against people weapon, carrying a concealed weapon,
 breaking and entering, aggravated burglary,
 kidnapping, intimidation of
 attorney/victim/witness, aggravated
 menacing, inducing panic, endangering
 children, harassment by inmate

Sex crimes Rape, gross sexual imposition, sexual

Drug / illegal Possession of a controlled substance,
substances trafficking a controlled substance,
related crimes possession of drug paraphernalia

Property crimes Criminal damaging/endangering, arson,
 aggravated arson, vandalism

Disorderly Unruly, disorderly conduct, failure to
conduct disperse

Other Crimes Truancy, riding outside of a motor vehicle,
 traffic violations, unauthorized use of a
 motor vehicle, acts in contempt of court,
 cigarette offense, criminal trespassing,
 forgery, making false alarms, resisting
 arrest, participation in a criminal gang,
 probation violation

Type of Crime Female % Male Sample % Total %
 Sample (n = 220) Sample
 (n = 143) (n = 363)

Violent crimes 94 66 117 53 211 58
against people

Other crimes 42 30 121 55 163 45
against people

Sex crimes 0 0 14 6 14 4

Drug / illegal 30 7 39 18 49 13
related crimes

Property crimes 13 9 60 27 73 20

Disorderly 34 24 35 16 69 19

Other Crimes 87 61 130 60 217 60

Table 3: Frequency of Abuse

 Female % Male % Total %
 Sample Sample Sample
 (n = 143) (n = 220) (n = 363_

Physically abused 41 27 19 9 60 17
 by others
Physically abused 24 17 15 7 39 11
 another person
Sexually abused by 137 26 6 3 43 12
Sexually abused 2 1 7 3 9 2
 another person

Table 4: Frequency of Subjects Wanting to Hurt Themselves or Others

 Female % Male % Total %
 Sample Sample Sample
 (n = 143) (n = 220) (n = 363)

Wanting to hurt
Never 66 46 82 37 148 41
Sometimes 22 15 13 6 35 10
Lots of times 9 6 3 1 12 3
Almost all the time 4 3 1 0 5 1

Wanting to hurt
Never 66 46 67 30 133 37
Sometimes 25 17 25 11 50 14
Lots of times 6 4 6 3 12 3
Almost all the time 3 2 2 1 5 1

Table 5: Frequency of invalid tests due to Underresponse and
Hyperresponse (%)

 Female Sample Male Sample Total Sample
 n = 143 n = 220 n = 363

Underresponse 14 17 31
Hyperresponse 3 3 6

Table 6: Percentage of Elevated Clinical Scale and Subscale T Scores

 Female % Male % Total
 Sample Sample Sample
 (n = 143) (n = 220) (n = 363)

Anxiety 37 8 27 10 65 18
Depression 48 14 49 16 97 27
Anger 55 9 43 5 97 27
Posttraumatic Stress 43 9 45 10 88 24
Dissociation 39 7 46 9 95 26
Overt Dissociation 33 9 50 30 83 24
Fantasy 34 4 31 8 65 18
Sexual Concerns 54 18 41 10 93 26
Sexual Preoccupation 44 20 38 11 82 23
Sexual Distress 53 31 29 13 83 23

Table 7: Juvenile offender profile

Characteristics Total Sample Female Sample Male Sample

Age 14.7 14.6 14.7

Gender Male 43% 57%

Race African African African
 American American American
 (53.8%) (62.3%)

Education Level 9th-10th grade 9th grade 10th grade
 (29.4%) (23.4%)

Type of Crime Violent crimes Violent crimes Other crimes
 against others against against people
 people (66%) (55%)

History of Physically Physically Physically
Abuse abused by abused by abused by
 others others (41%) others (18.6%)

Wanting to Never Never (66%) Never (82.3%)
hurt self

Wanting to Never Never (66%) Never (67%)
hurt others

Elevated TSCC 1.Sexual 1.Depression
scores distress 2.Sexual
 2.Sexual distress
 preoccupation 3.Sexual
 3.Sexual preoccupation
 concerns 4.Sexual
 4.Depression concerns
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Author:Martin, Don; Martin, Magy; Dell, Rex; Davis, Candice; Guerrieri, Karen
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Date:Sep 22, 2008
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