Thursday, April 4, 2019

The Other Recidivism.

By Norbert Ralph, PhD, MPH

Please note this is part 1 of a 2-part blog, part 2 will follow over the next couple of weeks. Kieran

In 2001 when I started treating juveniles who sexually offended (JwSO) the focus was on sexual crime and sexual pathologies. This approach was described in publications like Pathways (Kahn, 2001), Steen and Monnette (1989), and Ryan (1999). A paradigm shift was crystallized by Calwell's article (Caldwell, 2016) reporting the average sexual recidivism for JwSO since 2000 as 2.75% and total recidivism as 30%. This implied that for JwSO nonsexual recidivism needed to be addressed, in addition to sexual issues. In this brief blog, I'll address issues related to the "other" recidivism, nonsexual recidivism when treating JwSO, and developmental factors influencing it.

In Canadian data, 17 is the age of highest incidence of those accused of property crimes, and age 13 likewise the age of highest incident of those accused of sexual crimes against children (Statistics Canada, 2016). These ages are "humps" in these curves and crime rates decline significantly after these ages. Steinberg, Cauffman, and Monahan (2015) studied 1,300 serious juvenile offenders for seven years after conviction. Less than 10 percent of the sample could be characterized as chronic offenders. Even for juveniles who were high-frequency offenders at the beginning of the study, the majority stopped offending by age 25. They developed a measure of psychosocial maturity which included impulse and aggression control, consideration of others, future orientation, personal responsibility, and resistance to peer influences which increased through all subgroups through age 25, consistent with current research regarding brain maturity and harmful behaviors (Steinberg, 2015). Less mature individuals were more likely to be persistent offenders, and even high-frequency offenders who psychosocially mature were more likely to desist from criminal behaviors.

Cauffman, Skeem, Dmitrieva, and Cavanagh (2016) studied 202 male juvenile offenders and 134 male adult offenders, all in secure detention facilities using versions of the Hare Psychopathy Checklist. A measure of psychosocial maturity was also used. They found that there was a greater risk of exaggerating psychopathic traits with juveniles compared to adults. They noted that 37% of juveniles who met the cut score for psychopathy continued to meet this criterion two years later compared to 53% of adults. False positive errors appeared to be more common among the youngest and least psychosocially mature juveniles. Increased psychosocial maturity, in turn, predicted decreased psychopathy scores in adolescents but not adults. Férriz Romeral, Sobral Fernández, and Gómez Fraguela (2018) conducted a meta-analytic analysis of 72 studies regarding the relationship between moral reasoning and juvenile criminal behavior. They found a moderate positive effect size (d=.662) which was larger for older adolescents and females.

The above review suggests that the "other" recidivism to be targeted for assessment and intervention with JwSO is nonsexual recidivism which in the Caldwell (2016) study was 10 times the rate of sexual recidivism (27.25% vs 2.75%). A variety of instruments exist for the assessing of the nonsexual recidivism with significant research including the Structured Assessment of Violence Risk for Youth and the Youth Level of Service/Case Management Inventory (Vincent, Drawbridge, & Davis, 2019). Also Férriz Romeral, Sobral Fernández, and Gómez Fraguela (2018) reviewed methods for assessing moral development, one component of psychosocial maturity.


Caldwell, M. F. (2016). Quantifying the Decline in Juvenile Sexual Recidivism Rates. Psychology, Public Policy, and Law. Advance online publication.

Cauffman, E., Skeem, J., Dmitrieva, J., & Cavanagh, C. (2016). Comparing the stability of psychopathy scores in adolescents versus adults: How often is “fledgling psychopathy” misdiagnosed? Psychology, Public Policy, and Law, 22(1), 77-91. doi:10.1037/law0000078

Férriz Romeral, L., Sobral Fernández, J., & Gómez Fraguela, J. (2018). Moral reasoning in adolescent offenders: A meta-analytic review. Psicothema777, 30(3), 289-294.

Kahn, T.J. (2001). Pathways: A guided workbook for youth beginning treatment (3rd Ed.). Brandon, VT: Safer Society Press.

Ryan, G. (1999). Treatment Of Sexually Abusive Youth. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 14(4), 422-436. Doi:10.1177/088626099014004005

Statistics Canada. (2016, May 10). Young adult offenders in Canada, 2014. Retrieved from

Steen, C., & Monnette, B. (1989). Treating adolescent sex offenders in the community. Springfield, IL: Charles C. Thomas Publisher.

Steinberg, L. (2015). Age of opportunity: Lessons from the new science of adolescence. Boston: Mariner Books, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

Steinberg, L., Cauffman, E., & Monahan, K. (2015). Psychosocial Maturity and Desistance From Crime in a Sample of Serious Juvenile Offenders. Retrieved February 4, 2019, from

Vincent, M., Drowbridge, D., & Davis, M. The Validity of Risk Assessment Instruments for Transition-Age Youth. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 87, 171-18

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