Improvement in Emotion Regulation While Detained Predicts Lower Juvenile Recidivism

AuthorMeagan Docherty,Andrew Lieman,Brandon Lee Gordon
Published date01 April 2022
Date01 April 2022
Subject MatterArticles
Youth Violence and Juvenile Justice
2022, Vol. 20(2) 164183
© The Author(s) 2021
Article reuse guidelines:
DOI: 10.1177/15412040211053786
Improvement in Emotion
Regulation While Detained
Predicts Lower Juvenile
Meagan Docherty
, Andrew Lieman
, and Brandon Lee Gordon
The goal of the current study was to investigate the relationships between observer-rated skills
related to emotional and cognitive regulation post-admission and pre-release in a secure facility
and off‌icial records of juvenile felony recidivism up to 1 year after release. Data came from a
sample of 599 youth in a residential facility in Washington state (84% male; 38% White). Latent
change score models indicated that both initial level of emotional regulation skills and im-
provement in emotion regulation skills while incarcerated were signif‌icantly related to lower
recidivism. This pattern of f‌indings remained when controlling for length of stay, among other
covariates. Follow-up analyses indicated that the results for emotion regulation skills might be
driven primarily by monitoring internal and external triggers. Additional research should in-
vestigate the connection between emotion regulation skills and juvenile recidivism, with a special
focus on trigger monitoring and how to improve those skills.
juvenile offending, detention, recidivism, self-regulation
Although incarceration of youth involved in the juvenile justice system has been on the decline in
the U.S. in recent decades, it remains a persistent public health and safety issue. The one-day count
of youth in residential placement facilities was nearly 44,000 in 2017, and this number has
decreased from over 108,000 in 2000, a decline of roughly 60% (Sawyer, 2019). This drop in
incarceration rate is due in part to efforts taken to reduce incarceration, including increased efforts
to f‌ind alternatives to incarceration, changes in state policy, and shutdown of youth conf‌inement
facilities (NJJN, 2014). Despite these improvements, incarceration rates in the U.S. are much
Bowling Green State University, Bowling Green, OH, USA
Corresponding Author:
Meagan Docherty, Department of Psychology, Bowling Green State University, 822 E Merry Ave, 259 Psychology Bldg,
Bowling Green, OH 43403, USA.
higher than rates in other countries (Laird, 2021), suggesting an over-reliance on incarceration as a
means of addressing crime. Additionally, although incarceration rates have declined as a whole,
there are considerable racial disparities in juvenile incarceration rates (Sawyer, 2019).
While incarceration is detrimental for everyone, juvenile incarceration is particularly harmful
for youth due to its impact on their development. A prison environment fails to addres s vital
psychological, educational, and health needs during adolescence (Barnert et al., 2016;Dmitrieva
et al., 2012;Lambie & Randell, 2013). If the purpose of juvenile incarceration is to rehabilitate
offenders, it often fails to live up to this promise in practice. There are few positive effects on
reducing crime but signif‌icant negative effects on mental health and future behavior, including
increased risk of reoffending (Aizer & Doyle, 2013;Lambie & Randell, 2013). Despite the recent
reduction in juvenile incarceration rates, juvenile recidivism rates remain high (Seigle et al.,
2014), motivating researchers and policy experts to better understand and reduce juvenile
Understanding the risk factors that increase the risk of juvenile recidivism can inform pre-
vention and intervention efforts aimed at reducing youthslevels of these risk factors. A multitude
of risk factors have been identif‌ied in past research, including past criminal behavior (e.g., number
of offenses and age of f‌irst offense; Cottle et al., 2001), individual differences (e.g., personality
characteristics: Cuevas et al., 2019;van Dam et al., 2005), and environmental inf‌luences (e.g.,
antisocial behavior of peers and family members: Cottle et al., 2001;Mulder et al., 2011).
However, targeting environmental or individual risk factors within a secure facility can be
diff‌icult, as many are challenging to address within the context of a residential program (e.g.,
exposure to delinquent peers), and others may be more resistant to change (e.g., antisocial
Comparatively, less research has examined skills that may serve as protective factors in re-
ducing juvenile recidivism, despite the relative ease with which skills training can be incorporated
into rehabilitation programs. For example, previous research has indicated that skills related to
self-control and self-regulation (e.g., impulse control, temperance, mindfulness, identifying, and
appropriately expressing emotions) are associated with decreased problem behaviors, including
delinquency and recidivism among youth (Baglivio et al., 2016;Cauffman et al., 2005;Steinberg
& Cauffman, 1996). Thus, these skills have been identif‌ied as important targets for interventions
with offenders, particularly for trauma-informed care (Brazão et al., 2018;Ford & Blaustein,
2013). Previous research has indicated that self-regulation encapsulates many domains of
functioning, especially cognitive (e.g., effortful control) and emotional (e.g., emotional lability or
reactivity) regulation skills. If skills that are related to cognitive and emotional regulatio n can
serve as protective factors against recidivism, improving these skills could potentially lead to
decreased juvenile recidivism. The present study will examine how initial levels of and changes in
cognitive and emotional regulation skills while incarcerated are associated with juvenile
Self-Regulation and Crime
Self-regulation is def‌ined as the ability to monitor, inhibit, and change behavior, attention,
emotions, and cognition accordingly to achieve personal goals (Moilanen & Raffaelli, 2005). This
is a broad def‌inition that encompasses many characteristics and skills, including self-control
(Mamayek et al., 2017). Self-control has a more behavioral focus and is def‌ined as the ability to
replace an action with one that helps achiev e another goal (Carver & Scheier, 2010) or the
tendency to avoid actions that have long-term negative consequences but positive short-term
consequences (Hirschi & Gottfredson, 1994). Related constructs that overlap with self-control and may
be encompassed by def‌initions of self-regulation include effortful control (Eisenberg et al., 2004),
Docherty et al. 165

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