Problems of young offenders studied

Nov 14, 2002, vol. 25, no. 6
By Marianne Meadahl

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SFU criminologists Irwin Cohen (left) and Raymond Corrado are trying to find out more about repeat young offenders.

The second phase of a study to determine why violent and serious young offenders repeatedly become involved in crime is leading researchers to a number of factors linked to early childhood - and supports their theory that early intervention in the lives of these young people is paramount.

More than 600 incarcerated young offenders were initially interviewed for the study carried out by SFU criminologists Raymond Corrado and Irwin Cohen and a team of criminology and psychology students. Youth who have returned to prison for subsequent crimes are now being re-interviewed as the researchers intend to track their recidivism over a six-year period.

“We're finding that there are certain patterns of decision making that reflect the importance of personality traits,” says Corrado, who expects the re-interview process will shed light on the variables consistent in the lives of those involved in repeated crimes.

Researchers want to learn more about the decision-making patterns of repeat violent and serious young offenders and will test several decision-making models. During extensive followup interviews, young people are being asked to talk about what prompted them to commit crimes and why they believe they re-offend.

“If we know there is a strong correlation between their time in youth prison and their subsequent adult crime, it is important to intervene while they are doing time as youths,” says Corrado. Corrado and Cohen believe that there is a need for a much more systematic understanding of the multiple and extremely serious problems of youth in the prison system.

In addition to re-interviewing those youth who have participated in their study and returned to youth prison, Corrado and Cohen continue to conduct first-round interviews with specific types of young offenders, such as female young offenders, aboriginal young offenders, or those young offenders who are convicted of extremely violent crimes, such as murder or sexual assault.

While they are still collecting data, Corrado says it's becoming increasingly apparent that the rate of recidivism is high. “Part of the problem is that we don't understand what motivates them to re-offend,” says Corrado.

“Research points to the fact that there are many factors that link back to early childhood. We're saying there are trends, and there is a need to identify and analyse these life course events. We're hoping to gain a better understanding of the whole profile of this problem.”

The research project is already gaining international attention. In recent weeks, Corrado gave a keynote address to researchers at the European Association of Psychology and Law in Belguim, while Cohen talked about this groundbreaking work at an annual crime prevention conference in Whitehorse. The research to date has involved more than 30 students and has led to nearly a dozen publications, including a forthcoming piece in the journal Crime and Delinquency.

The project has also produced five masters theses and one PhD thesis, and has led to invitations to more than 30 conferences.

The study is one of the first long-term examinations of the effects of incarceration on young offenders.

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