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Snare or Turning Point? An Exploration of Change and Continuity in Criminal Behavior Among Formerly Incarcerated Youth


The overall purpose of the current studies was to evaluate the impact of incarceration on formerly incarcerated youth's post-release psychosocial adjustment from two approaches. A group of formerly incarcerated youth (N = 62) were recruited from a volunteer re-entry program in Southern California. The majority of the sample was eighteen years old, male and Latino. In the first approach I evaluated the impact of abuse during incarceration on post-release psychosocial outcomes (i.e., posttraumatic stress, depression, and criminal involvement) while exploring the prevalence and types of abuse that youth experienced. Findings from the first study indicated that youth experienced a broad range of abuses during incarceration including direct, witnessed, and vicarious abuse experiences. When these forms of abuse experiences were combined, nearly all youth experienced some type of abuse. In addition, the more frequently youth were exposed to abuse, all types combined, the more likely they were to have higher rates of post-release criminal involvement, depression, and PTSD symptoms even while controlling for child maltreatment and time spent incarcerated.

Second, I evaluated whether youth considered their time spent incarcerated as a turning point in their lives using two methods (i.e., quantitative and qualitative). Findings from the second study indicate that how youth perceive their incarceration experience impacts their post-release outcomes in diverse ways. There was large variability in how much positive change or benefits youth reported following, and because of, incarceration. The amount of benefits youth perceived following incarceration was positively associated with social support and self-esteem, and negatively associated with depression. However, the effect of youth's perceptions of positive benefits following incarceration on depression and criminal involvement depended on the level of incarceration trauma youth experienced. Lower levels of perceived change following incarceration along with high levels of incarceration trauma were associated with increased criminal involvement and depression symptoms post-release. Finally, when youth were asked to freely identify a turning point in their life, only one-quarter of the sample identified incarceration as a turning point. Taken together, findings reveal that the incarceration experience can be abusive and how youth perceive this experience, along with the level of abuse, impacts post-release functioning.

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