Preeti Chauhan, University of Virginia
N. Dickon Reppucci, University of Virginia
Abstract: School failure and other education problems have been consistently linked to aggressive and antisocial behavior among juvenile offenders (Borum, Bartel, & Forth, 2000). Conversely, commitment to school and educational attainment are cited as protective factors that lead to the prevention of antisocial behavior (Harrenkohl, et al, 2000). While this appears to be true for boys and girls generally, there is some evidence that education is a more salient factor for girls (Borum, Bartel, & Forth, 2000; Heimer, 1995). However, the mechanism by which education operates as a protective factor for girls is not well understood. To fill this gap in the research, the current paper seeks to better understand the protective role education can play in preventing recidivism among female juvenile offenders. The goals of the study were three fold: 1) document the education characteristics of incarcerated female offenders; 2) empirically substantiate crucial school constructs such as school safety, school connectedness, intelligence and achievement as potential protective factors against future recidivism and antisocial behavior and 3) explore barriers to school re-enrollment.
The study utilizes longitudinal data on serious and violent adolescent female offenders. Wave I included every adolescent girl sentenced to secure custody in the state of Virginia during an 18 month period (N = 140). Wave II interviews were conducted with girls who have been released from secure custody for a minimum of 6 months (n = 56). Data include constructs crucial to education such as intelligence and academic achievement, as well as pre and post incarceration school safety, school connectedness, and school violence.
Results suggest that this is a lower functioning group that requires assistance in completing their education. Data from Wave I found that the mean IQ was 84.57 (SD = 17.59); mean reading achievement was 93.56 (SD = 11.53) and mean math achievement 86.64 (SD = 9.72). Furthermore, approximately 30% were in special education (at Wave I) and about 30% had dropped out of school after release.
A series of logistic regressions were run predicting official recidivism and self-reported antisocial behavior at Wave II. In each case, number of days since release was accounted for prior to entering the school-related constructs. Although no protective factors emerged, we believe that this may be due to small sample size at this point because only 38 (of the 56) girls re-enrolled in school. Furthermore, official arrest statistics were available on only 16 of those 38 girls. Hence, there was low statistical power. We expect to be able to increase sample size significantly, thus, adequate statistical power will be available to re-examine this study's objectives in the future.
In terms of barriers to re-enrollment, 48% of the participants stated that they had some difficulty with re-enrolling in school; 16% had difficulty gathering the necessary paperwork, and 20% stated that the rules of school made it difficult to re-enroll (e.g., rules such as youth with prior legal charges were not permitted to re-enroll in their school).
In sum, providing assistance for re-enrolling in school may be helpful for these young women and may facilitate higher re-enrollment rates. Furthermore, several juvenile offenders age out of regular school by the time they are released or have received their GED during their incarceration. Options for community college or vocational education should be discussed as a part of the community re-entry process with the goal of increasing the likelihood of successful community reintegration.