Adult Vs. Juvenile Offenses: Offenses While A Juvenile Mean Lower Recidivism Rates

The mean sexual recidivism rate for juveniles is 7.08 percent (7.08%) according to a meta-analysis and review of 63 sets or data comprised of 11,219 juvenile sex offenders. Caldwell, Michael F. (2009) Study Characteristics and Recidivism Base Rates in Juvenile Sex Offender Recidivism, International Journal of Offender Therapy and Comparative Criminology, Vol. XX, No. X, Month XXX (Online First published on January 23, 2009. The weighted mean of these samples is a follow-up period of 59.4 months or just under five years. This means that only one in fourteen (1/14) juvenile sex offenders recidivates sexually in five years. Moreover, this means that due to statistical limitations the development of factors associated with increased risk is difficult.

The study of various facts generally correlated with risk have failed to demonstrate comprehensive factors with a strong relationship to sexually recidivism risk in juveniles. “Recidivism research on adolescent sexual offenders is sparse, and most studies, . . . suffer from methodological inadequacies and are generally unworthy of conventional confidence levels.” Kahn, Timothy J. and Chambers, Heather J. (1991) Assessing Reoffense Risk with Juvenile Sexual Offenders, Child Welfare, Vol. LXX, No 3., May-June 1991 citing Furby, Lita; Weinrott, Mark; and Blackshaw, Lyn. (1987) Sex Offender Recidivism: A Review, Eugene Research Institute Report 87-5. Manuscript submitted for publication 1987. (Available from ERI, 47 Willamette St., Eugene, OR 97401.).

Against this backdrop, some studies have suggested that a relationship exists between some facts others have suggested otherwise. For example, at least one researcher article has suggested a relationship between the following facts and sexual reoffense: psychopathy, deviant arousal, cognitive distortions, truancy, a prior (known) sex offense, blaming the victim, and use of threat/force. Righthand, Sue and Welch, Carlann, Juveniles Who Have Sexually Offended: A review of the Professional Literature; Office of U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, Washington, D.C. March 2001 citing Weinrott, M. (1998) Empirically-based treatment interventions for juvenile sex offenders. Presentation sponsored by the Child Abuse Action Network and the State Forensic Service, Augusta, ME, August 1998.

Due to a juvenile’s developing sexual nature these factors most likely cannot be used to assess a juveniles recidivism risk. Nesbet, Ian A.; Wilson, Peter H.; Smallhouse, Stephen W. (2004) A prospective Longitudinal Study of Sexual Recidivism Among Adolescent Sex Offenders, Sex Abuse: A Journal of Research and Treatment, Vol. 16, No. 3 July 2004. Nesbit et al 2004 noted that sexual deviance as a predictor remained unclear. Antisocial personality disorder is not diagnosable until the patient is 18 years of age. American Psychiatric Association (2000) Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition, Text Revision. Washington, DC, American Psychiatric Association, 2000

Given the failure to identify solid recidivism factors it is not surprising that predictive juvenile actuarial instruments have not been useful. The Juvenile Sexual Offense Recidivism Risk Assessment Tool–II (J-SORRAT-II), Structured Assessment of Violence Risk in Youth SAVRY), and Juvenile Sex Offender Assessment Protocol–II (J-SOAP-II) to have generally been found to be inadequate to predict sexual recidivism. Viljoen, Jodi L. et al, Assessing Risk for Violence in Adolescents who have Sexually Offended: A comparison of the J-SOAP-II, J-SORRAT-II, and SAVRY, Criminal Justice and Behavior, Vol. 35, No. 1 January 2009 p. 5 (2008).

The United States Supreme Court in Roper v. Simmons, 543 U.S. 551, 569-570 (2005) noted that:

“Three general differences between juveniles under 18 and adults demonstrate that juvenile offenders cannot with reliability be classified among the worst offenders. First, as any parent knows and as the scientific and sociological studies respondent and his amici cite tend to confirm, "[a] lack of maturity and an underdeveloped sense of responsibility are found in youth more often than in adults and are more understandable among the young. These qualities often result in impetuous and ill-considered actions and decisions." Johnson, supra, at 367; see also Eddings, supra, at 115-116 ("Even the normal 16-year-old customarily lacks the maturity of an adult"). It has been noted that "adolescents are overrepresented statistically in virtually every category of reckless behavior." Arnett, Reckless Behavior in Adolescence: A Developmental Perspective, 12 Developmental Review 339 (1992). In recognition of the comparative immaturity and irresponsibility of juveniles, almost every State prohibits those under 18 years of age from voting, serving on juries, or marrying without parental consent. See Appendixes B-D, infra.

The second area of difference is that juveniles are more vulnerable or susceptible to negative influences and outside pressures, including peer pressure. Eddings, supra, at 115 ("[Y]outh is more than a chronological fact. It is a time and condition of life when a person may be most susceptible to influence and to psychological damage"). This is explained in part by the prevailing circumstance that juveniles have less control, or less experience with control, over their own environment. See Steinberg & Scott, Less Guilty by Reason of Adolescence: Developmental Immaturity, Diminished Responsibility, and the Juvenile Death Penalty, 58 Am. Psychologist 1009, 1014 (2003) (hereinafter Steinberg & Scott) ("[A]s legal minors, [juveniles] lack the freedom that adults have to extricate themselves from a criminogenic setting").

The third broad difference is that the character of a juvenile is not as well formed as that of an adult. The personality traits of juveniles are more transitory, less fixed. See generally E. Erikson, Identity: Youth and Crisis (1968).

These differences render suspect any conclusion that a juvenile falls among the worst offenders. The susceptibility of juveniles to immature and irresponsible behavior means "their irresponsible conduct is not as morally reprehensible as that of an adult." Thompson, supra, at 835 (plurality opinion). Their own vulnerability and comparative lack of control over their immediate surroundings mean juveniles have a greater claim than adults to be forgiven for failing to escape negative influences in their whole environment. See Stanford, 492 U. S., at 395 (Brennan, J., dissenting). The reality that juveniles still struggle to define their identity means it is less supportable to conclude that even a heinous crime committed by a juvenile is evidence of irretrievably depraved character. From a moral standpoint it would be misguided to equate the failings of a minor with those of an adult, for a greater possibility exists that a minor's character deficiencies will be reformed. Indeed, "[t]he relevance of youth as a mitigating factor derives from the fact that the signature qualities of youth are transient; as individuals mature, the impetuousness and recklessness that may dominate in younger years can subside." Johnson, supra, at 368; see also Steinberg & Scott 1014 ("For most teens, [risky or antisocial] behaviors are fleeting; they cease with maturity as individual identity becomes settled. Only a relatively small proportion of adolescents who experiment in risky or illegal activities develop entrenched patterns of problem behavior that persist into adulthood").

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