Gender Differences in the Prevalence and Predictive Validity of Protective Factors in a Sample of Justice-Involved Youth

DOI10.1177/15412040221089235
Published date01 July 2022
Date01 July 2022
Subject MatterArticles
Article
Youth Violence and Juvenile Justice
2022, Vol. 20(3) 231249
© The Author(s) 2022
Article reuse guidelines:
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DOI: 10.1177/15412040221089235
journals.sagepub.com/home/yvj
Gender Differences in the
Prevalence and Predictive
Validity of Protective Factors in
a Sample of Justice-Involved
Youth
Julie Goodwin, MA
1
, Shelley L. Brown, PhD
1
, and
Tracey A. Skilling, PhD
2,3
Abstract
Research on strengths and violent behavior in justice-involved youth suggests that the prevalence
and predictive validity of strength factors vary as a function of gender. Interviews conducte d
between 2009 and 2012 with 185 justice-involved Canadian youth (N
female
=84, N
male
= 101; 67%
violent index offence) were coded retrospectively using two strength measures for violence
prediction: the protective domain of the Structured Assessment of Violence Risk in Youth
(SAVRY), and the Structured Assessment of Protective Factors-Youth Version (SAPROF-YV).
Males exhibited more protective factors than females across measures. Both tools were strong
predictors of general recidivism in males but not females. The SAVRY protective domain was
predictive of violent recidivism in males, but the SAPROF-YV was not; neither was predictive of
violent recidivism in females. This study demonstrates gender differences in the prevalence and
predictive validity of strengths in justice-involved youth and highlights the need for more female-
focused research and measures.
Keywords
Protective factors, sex differences, gender differences, violence risk, assessment, strengths
Identifying who is most likely to engage in future criminal conduct, particularly violence, is a key
objective in youth justice settings. As such, risk factors associated with general and violent
reoffending have been examined among justice-involved people as a function of age and gender
1
Department of Psychology, Carleton University, Ottawa, ON, Canada
2
Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, Toronto, ON, Canada
3
Department of Psychiatry, University of Toronto, Toronto, ON, Canada
Corresponding Author:
Shelley L. Brown, Department of Psychology, Carleton University, 1125 Colonel By Drive, Ottawa, ON K1S 5B6,
Canada.
Email: shelley.brown@carleton.ca
(Bonta & Andrews, 2017;Dowden & Andrews, 1999;Lipsey, 2009). The parallel study of
strengths
1
, which are hypothesized to predict decreases in recidivism, has increased over the past
several decades (Brown et al., 2020;Scott & Brown, 2018;Ward, 2002). Despite the increase in
academic attention, this area of research has not yet fully examined all sub-groups of justice-
involved people or more specif‌ic outcomes. In particular, there is a dearth of research which
addresses the relationship between risk, strengths, and violent criminal behavior in youth and
whether gender
2
differences exist. The goal of this paper is to address this gap and to inform future
strength-based assessment for both male and female justice-involved youth.
Risks, Gender, and Assessment
Historically, the criminal behavior of female youth and adults has been under-studied (Belknap,
2015). In particular, violent behavior in female youth has been overlooked, in part due to the
signif‌icantly lower rates of violence among females compared to males (Murdoch et al., 2012). In
2019, about 25% of all youth crime in Canada was perpetrated by females. Male youth were twice
as likely to be charged with a violent crime (30%) in comparison to their female counterparts
(15%) (National Crime Prevention Centre, 2012;Savage, 2019). While these lower rates of
violence may help to explain the relative lack of academic attention afforded to justice-involved
female youth, it is nonetheless surprising that few studies have explicitly explored the correlates or
predictors of violent female crime. This topic is important because the research that exists in-
dicates that those female youth who do engage in violent behavior often become entrenched in the
justice system and are at high risk for a variety of other negative healt h and social outcomes, such
as psychiatric disorders, and exposure to violence in their homes and communities (Odgers et al.,
2007). Furthermore, studies have demonstrated that violence can be transmitted intergenera-
tionally; females who are exposed to violence at a young age are more likely to go on to exhibit
violent behaviors themselves, reinforcing cycles of violence (e.g., Black et al., 2010;Moretti et al.,
2014). Even fewer studies have considered how the relationship between strengths and violent
behavior may be differentor the samefor female youth in comparison to males.
The importance of gender in violence risk assessment is a divisive issue. Many scholars and
justice professionals support a gender neutral approach to risk assessment and intervention. This
approach focuses on the central eight risk factors outlined in the general personality and cognitive
social learning theory (GPCSL) and underscores using interventions and assessment approaches
that are similar for all genders (Bonta & Andrews, 2017;Schwalbe, 2008). In contrast, feminist
scholars assert the pathways to crime for girls and women differ substantially from those of boys
and men. Histories of victimization and abuse, a lack of safety in their families of origin, and
poverty with subsequent involvement in criminal behavior as a means of survival, are hy-
pothesized to be more important in understanding and predicting femalesjustice-involvement
(Salisbury & Van Voorhis, 2009). As a result, this perspective posits that risk assessments and
interventions for girls and women should prioritize hypothesized female-specif‌ic risk factors and
approaches; albeit certain aspects of gender neutral assessment and intervention are not entirely
discounted. Historically this paradigm has been coined gender responsive (i.e., female responsive)
(Belknap, 2015;Salisbury & Van Voorhis, 2009). A review of the existing literature suggests that
both positions have merit and evidence exists to support both views, at least in part.
In support of a gender neutral approach, Schwalbes 2008 meta-analysis compared the pre-
dictive accuracy of three risk assessments for male and female youth evaluated across 19 studies.
The results indicated that there were no signif‌icant gender differences in the predictive accuracy of
tools. Schwalbe asserted that the results of the meta-analysis were accurate, and that earlier
f‌indings of gender differences in predictive accuracy (i.e., Schwalbe et al., 2004), may be at-
tributed to gender-based bias in the justice decision-making process. In contrast, the results of a
232 Youth Violence and Juvenile Justice 20(3)

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