such as impulsivity and risk taking, family distress, school failure, and peer influence, are, by and large, similar to those experienced by all youth caught up in delinquent behavior and in the juvenile justice system. More serious offenders may well experience more powerful and prevalent environmental influences, such as neighborhood disorder or deviant peer involvement, and these in turn may exacerbate existing intraindividual vulnerabilities for involvement in antisocial behavior. The processes by which these contextual and individual risk characteristics interact to increase the risk of criminal involvement, however, appear more similar than different among serious, nonserious, and nonoffending adolescents.

It is important to note that the findings summarized above and in Table 6-1 are inherently limited, in light of new, possible risk markers that might be examined if this type of research were done today. When the referenced studies were conducted, there was little awareness of the wide range of biological, neuropsychological, or psychosocial variables that might be considered as highly relevant to adolescent development. Examination of these new constructs of interest might elucidate powerful interactions or moderated effects that simply were not imagined as relevant when the reviewed studies were conducted.


The above findings are nonetheless relevant for developing strategies for assessing and intervening with adolescent offenders. First, there is currently no clearly applicable approach for identifying the adolescent offender who will go on to commit the most horrific and troubling crimes. Hindsight often makes it seem like these adolescents must be readily detectable, but foresight for doing so has not been found (Mulvey, Schubert, and Odgers, 2010). Adolescent offenders differ on a gradient of risk for future offending, with no distinct set of risk markers associated with the most serious and chronic offending, and approaches that use this general framework for risk have the most solid empirical basis. In addition, the risk markers associated with future offending, either serious and chronic or not, cover a broad array of personal and social features and differ with developmental period. This means that interventions limited to just one “key” factor during a limited period of development are likely to have an equally limited sustained impact on reoffending.

This does not mean that secondary prevention efforts to reduce involvement in antisocial activities and future offending are for naught. Multiple effective prevention strategies for working with troubled and troubling youth have been shown to have positive effects (Office of the Surgeon General, 2001). The implication of the above findings about the limited specificity of risk markers is that interventions of this sort will have only

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