Unmet Needs: Adverse Childhood Experiences and Mental Health Issues as Pathways to Recidivism in Justice-Involved Youth
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Standard practice within the correctional system dictates that certain needs, such as antisocial personality, cognitions, and peers, are to be prioritized when providing interventions. However, greater concern has arisen regarding the prevalence of non-criminogenic needs, including traumatic experiences and mental health problems, in the justice-involved youth population and whether these youths’ needs are being met while in the juvenile justice system. The juvenile justice literature indicates that Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs), which may act as a proxy for trauma, and mental health concerns are prevalent in the justice-involved youth population. While these topics have been examined independently, the current study utilized a large sample of male (n = 38,100) and female (n = 12,762) youths on community supervision to identify whether these youths’ needs are currently being addressed in Washington State. Moreover, the effect of programming on these youths’ adverse experiences and specific mental health problems (internalizing, externalizing, or co-occurring symptoms) was examined to ascertain whether provided interventions ameliorated the effect of these needs on youths’ recidivism. Life course theory was also tested to assess whether early-onset youth differed from those with a late onset on their reoffending. In a statistically weighted sample of youth with need-service matches versus those with mismatches, results demonstrate that mismatches are not associated with increased recidivism. Additionally, mediated path analyses show that only substance abuse treatment impacts the relationship between ACEs and reoffending for males. Internalizing symptoms present as a protective factor that is mediated by substance use treatment. Conversely, both externalizing and co-occurring symptoms present as risk factors, but the effect of the latter is decreased by substance abuse programming for males. Lastly, early-onset of deviance results in higher recidivism odds. These findings have implication for practice, insofar that they add context regarding which youth histories (ACEs) and attributes (mental health symptomatology) affect treatment efficacy, thus potentially reducing risk to the public and improving youths’ personal well-being. In short, the results suggest a move away from a hyper-focus on risk to consideration of both youths’ needs and their responsivity to programming.