A group of Iowa State University researchers is working to identify possible early warning signs in children that may lead to criminal behavior. I.S.U. Sociology Professor Matt DeLisi admits there are some ethical issues with the research as many juveniles who display a pattern of antisocial behavior may not turn to a life of crime.
“That places a quandary…on one hand, we have a lot of science showing the earlier you start, generally the worse you will become,” DeLisi says. “But, there’s also just a lot discontinuity in offending over time and what the system doesn’t want to do is come down too harshly on an offender or youth who’s going to age or mature out of it naturally.”
The study involving the I.S.U. research team involved 252 children living in juvenile detention centers in Pennsylvania. Not surprisingly, they found economic hardship was a key determining factor in many of the cases. DeLisi says they also found children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) got into trouble at a younger age than other juvenile offenders.
“For ADHD, when we compared those youth to those without it, they had significantly earlier onsets. For most, it was about a year earlier,” DeLisi said. He was quick to point out the finding does not mean every child with ADHD will become delinquent or be arrested.
Instead, DeLisi said more research is needed to determine why some kids with ADHD get into trouble while others do not. Ultimately, the researchers hope to identify preventative measures to keep at-risk kids from turning to crime — which would save taxpayer dollars and families from losing loved ones to prison.
“If we can understand them very early on and provide interventions or services that are going to assist some of the desistance mechanisms that we know some of them do, then we can not only improve the individual’s life, but you can preclude all of the victimization that he or show was going to inflict,” DeLisi said. The study involving the ISU research team was recently published in the Journal of Criminal Justice. Researchers from the University of Pittsburgh and Saint Louis University also contributed to the study.