Rethinking the Concept of Risk Assessment in Juvenile Justice


The current popular trend in juvenile justice is to assess risk.   Developing predictive analytics about which young people are likely to repeat criminal or delinquent behavior is important when thinking in this context.

MAIN IDEA: If we can prevent who is at risk of being or staying delinquent, than we can more effectively work to prevent these behaviors in the future.     This logic is very intuitive and quite appealing to policy makers and the larger population.   This perspective has led to the concept of identifying ‘criminogenic’ behavior.  That is, identifying the predictors of crime.

Criminogenic   [krim-uh-nuh-jen-ik]   adjective 1. producing or tending to produce crime or criminals : a criminogenic environment.    (Webster-Miriam online dictionary)

Despite the appeal of this way of thinking, there is a fundamental flaw to this logic when considered through a transformational framework.     Risk assessment works to determine just how bad someone is going to be in the future.    But that can lead to a focus on preventing bad behavior through increasingly restrictive interventions.  It also runs the risk of identifying a class of youth as ‘high risk’ which is not dissimilar to the unfortunate concept of ‘super predators’.

Our work is not really about predicting how bad someone is going to be in the future.  It is really intended to help youth not be bad in the future.   We should be less interested in things that might identify which youth are delinquent or criminal and more interested in identifying things that might be related to young people’s choice to become good citizens.   Thus TCOM turns its focus to ‘citizenogenic’ factors.

Citizenogenic [sit-eh-zen-o-jen-ik]    adjective 1. producing or tending to produce positive public behavior or citizenship : a citizenogenic environment.   (Lyons)

 

Creating Citizenogenic interventions and environments are really about identifying and building strengths.    We would propose that building strengths in youth people who are engaged in delinquent behavior might be a powerful pathway for helping these youth find positive meaning in their lives so that they do not choose to continue down a pathway towards an adult criminal lifestyle.

John Lyons, 2016

 

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