Criminogenic Need Profiles Among Substance-Using Justice-Involved Youth

Date01 December 2021
Published date01 December 2021
Subject MatterArticles
CRIMINAL JUSTICE AND BEHAVIOR, 2021, Vol. 48, No. 12, December 2021, 1694 –1713.
Article reuse guidelines:
© 2021 International Association for Correctional and Forensic Psychology
York University
Centre for Addiction and Mental Health
University of Toronto
The relationship between juvenile offending and substance use is well-documented. Understanding this relationship in the
context of other criminogenic needs could lead to more effective treatment programming, in an effort to reduce future justice
system involvement. This study retrospectively classified 276 substance-using youth in the justice system into unique profiles
based on the nature and severity of self-reported substance use and criminogenic needs. We tested competing latent profile
analysis (LPA) models with a variable number of profiles. A four-profile model was optimal and included: (a) clinical drug
and alcohol use with high criminogenic needs; (b) borderline-clinical drug use with low criminogenic needs; (c) clinical drug
use with high criminogenic needs; and (d) clinical drug use with low to moderate criminogenic needs. Profiles demonstrated
unique patterns of demographic and clinical factors, index offense, and rates of recidivism. Clinical implications for justice-
involved youth with substance abuse are discussed, particularly related to treatment needs/services.
Keywords: substance use; youth; assessment; criminogenic need; recidivism
Justice-involved youth are more likely to have mental health problems compared to the
general adolescent population (Colins et al., 2010; Wasserman et al., 2003), with past
research suggesting that up to 70% of youth in the justice system have a diagnosable psy-
chiatric disorder (Colins et al., 2010; Fazel et al., 2008). Moreover, within the youth justice
population, both females and males with any mental health disorder have demonstrated
significantly greater odds (i.e., 1.8–4.1) of having a co-occurring substance use disorder
(SUD) diagnosis (Teplin et al., 2003), with rates of up to 76% observed (Schubert et al.,
2011). A wealth of research has documented a relationship between substance use and juve-
nile offending, and reductions in substance use may play a key role in reducing justice
system involvement (Kazemian et al., 2009; Stoolmiller & Blechman, 2005). However,
there is limited research examining the unique criminogenic risk/needs of justice-involved
AUTHORS’ NOTE: The authors thank the staff at the Youth Justice Assessment Clinic at the Centre for
Addiction and Mental Health for their contributions to the clinical data collected for this work, as well as the
youth who contributed to this research. Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Elisea
De Somma, Department of Psychology, York University, 4700 Keele Street, Toronto, Ontario, Canada M3J 1P3;
1014234CJBXXX10.1177/00938548211014234Criminal Justice and BehaviorDe Somma et al. / Criminogenic Profiles of Substance-Using Youth
youth with varying levels/patterns of substance use, which may be an important consider-
ation for service delivery and treatment uptake.
Studies have shown that SUDs are associated with a range of negative outcomes in jus-
tice-involved youth, such as high school dropout, family-related problems, and risky sexual
behavior (Chassin, 2008; Reifman et al., 1998). Within the youth justice population, younger
age at first alcohol/drug use is a risk factor and a strong predictor of recidivism among ado-
lescents who have committed serious offenses (Benda et al., 2001). Moreover, in a sample
of probationers in Washington State, youth with problematic substance use presented with
more criminogenic needs and had less protective factors than youth who reported no drug
use in the 6 months prior (van der Put et al., 2014). Such research highlights the unique
needs demonstrated by justice-involved youth with substance use concerns.
Decisions regarding intervention are informed by evaluating risk and needs relevant to a
youth’s criminal activity (Hoge, 2001). A widely used model for assessment and case man-
agement of justice-involved youth is the Risk-Need-Responsivity (RNR) framework
(Andrews & Bonta, 2010). Within the RNR framework, an individual’s risk of future
offending is determined by identifying and responding to their criminogenic needs (i.e., risk
factors amenable to change, including substance abuse and others). Responsivity is deter-
mined by evaluating individual characteristics that may impact the effectiveness of inter-
vention, such as cognitive ability and motivation (Andrews & Bonta, 2010; Peterson-Badali
et al., 2015). Risk/need factors are categorized into eight domains, which can be divided
into the “big four” and the “modest four” (Andrews et al., 2012). The big four factors
include history of criminal behavior, as well as antisocial personality, antisocial attitudes,
and antisocial peers, and are the factors most strongly associated with recidivism. The mod-
est four include other criminogenic needs that are modestly related to recidivism (e.g., edu-
cation/employment, family circumstances, leisure/recreation, and substance use). From a
clinical perspective, substance use is a mental health need; within the RNR framework,
substance use is also a criminogenic need in the youth justice population, and therefore is
often a target for clinical and forensic intervention (Chassin, 2008).
Characterizing the criminogenic risk/need profiles that are prevalent among substance-
using youth in the justice system could be helpful in understanding the relationship between
substance use and ongoing criminal behavior, and thereby focus and tailor intervention
efforts to address this serious issue that is relevant for mental health and justice outcomes.
However, research of this nature is limited within the adolescent and emerging adult popu-
lations. Indeed, youth with different patterns of criminogenic risks/needs may respond dif-
ferently to intervention. As such, a better understanding of the heterogeneity of this
population is important for developing strategies to more effectively address their needs.
Such research has been undertaken in the adult justice population. A recent study of incar-
cerated Canadian men with an identified severe substance use need found five typologies to
characterize men convicted of a crime, that were differentiated according to substance-
using behavior and other criminogenic needs (Ternes et al., 2019). Findings from this study
suggested that social supports and employment/education may be particularly important
targets for intervention among substance-using men in the justice system. That is, the group
least likely to reoffend included individuals with positive social supports, while another
group, which was identified as having stable employment/education, had low levels of
recidivism, despite a high number of needs overall. As such, the authors highlighted that
substance use severity should not be examined in isolation when classifying incarcerated

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