Criminology literature is overwhelmingly based in studies of males, though studies of gender differences or of females are rapidly accumulating. Rates of psychiatric disorder are typically higher in females involved with justice systems compared to males. However, the juvenile or criminal justice involvement of girls in mental health systems, or with serious mental health conditions is greatly understudied. Identifying their arrest risk onset, peak, and offset provides practitioners information about when to intervene and with whom. The goal of the present study is to describe within-individual longitudinal arrest patterns from ages 8-24 in this population, and determine whether their arrest patterns differ from general offender females in ways that have practice implications.
Methods: Using statewide administrative data from the Massachusetts Department of Mental Health (DMH) and Massachusetts’ juvenile and criminal courts, a database was constructed that contained juvenile and criminal arrest histories to age 25 for females born 1976-79. DMH females were adolescent service users (n=738), Non-DMH females had no DMH database records (n=34,436). Massachusetts Census 2000 provided the size of the general female population. Developmental trajectory modeling was used to group individuals’ patterns of offending over time (trajectories) into “clusters” of those whose trajectories are similar, and describe trajectories. Trajectory comparison methods minimized the greater Non-DMH cohort size.
Results: DMH females were far more likely to be arrested by age 25 than Non-DMH females (46% vs. 22%) and to be arrested at multiple ages (28% vs. 7%). Analyses revealed eight justice system trajectories among those with multiple ages of arrest. Trajectories varied on level of involvement and timing of onset/offset/peaks. Non-DMH females comprised at least 93% of each trajectory cluster, though several clusters showed significant over- or under-representation of DMH females.
Conclusions: Concern about justice system involvement of female youths in intensive MH services is justified. Among girls with multiple ages with arrest, differences in criminal careers between the mental health and non mental health system users was minimal. Implications of trajectory findings for timing and type of intervention will be presented.
Available at: http://works.bepress.com/william_h_fisher/122/