Incarcerated Youths' Perspectives on Protective Factors and Risk Factors for Juvenile Offending

A Qualitative Analysis

Published in: American Journal of Public Health, v. 105, no. 7, July 2015, p. 1365-1371

Posted on on January 07, 2015

by Elizabeth S. Barnert, Raymond Perry, Veronica F. Azzi, Rashmi Shetgiri, Gery W. Ryan, Rebecca N. Dudovitz, Bonnie T. Zima, Paul J. Chung

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Research Question

  1. How do juvenile offenders view the factors that protect or put them at risk of incarceration?

OBJECTIVES: We sought to understand incarcerated youths' perspectives on the role of protective factors and risk factors for juvenile offending. METHODS: We performed an in-depth qualitative analysis of interviews (conducted October–December 2013) with 20 incarcerated youths detained in the largest juvenile hall in Los Angeles. RESULTS: The adolescent participants described their homes, schools, and neighborhoods as chaotic and unsafe. They expressed a need for love and attention, discipline and control, and role models and perspective. Youths perceived that when home or school failed to meet these needs, they spent more time on the streets, leading to incarceration. They contrasted the path through school with the path to jail, reporting that the path to jail felt easier. All of them expressed the insight that they had made bad decisions and that the more difficult path was not only better but also still potentially achievable. CONCLUSIONS: Breaking cycles of juvenile incarceration will require that the public health community partner with legislators, educators, community leaders, and youths to determine how to make success, rather than incarceration, the easier path for disadvantaged adolescents.

Key Findings

  • Youth described homes, schools, and neighborhoods as unsafe and chaotic.
  • In that environment, the path to jail seemed easier than the path to school.
  • Despite their bad decisions, youth felt taking the right path was still possible.


  • The public health community should partner with legislators, educators, community leaders, and youth to make success the easier path for disadvantaged adolescents.

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