A Long Term Follow-Up of Serious Female Offenders

Peggy C. Giordano, Bowling Green State University
Stephen A. Cernkovich, Bowling Green State University
Allen R. Lowery, The Bowling Green State University

Most studies of the adolescent to adult transition have relied on cohort, neighborhood or school-based designs, and even those that select on standard "risk" criteria (e.g., residing in a low income neighborhood, evidence of conduct disorder in 5th grade) contain few youth whose delinquent involvement is serious and chronic. This low base rate problem is exacerbated when we focus on criminal behavior and aggression as exhibited by female adolescents. Yet every jurisdiction contains a small and growing number of young women whose behavior is sufficiently serious to warrant official intervention, and we know remarkably little about their long term prospects. In this paper, we present the results of the first contemporary long term follow-up of a sample of serious adolescent female offenders (n=127) and a similarly situated male comparison group (n=127). We initially conducted interviews in 1982 with the entire population of the state's only institution for delinquent girls and a comparable sample of adolescent male offenders drawn from three male institutions. In 1995/1996 we were able to locate and re-interview 75% of these respondents (n=210), who at the follow-up averaged approximately thirty years of age. Prior analyses (see e.g., Giordano, Cernkovich and Rudolph, 2000; Cernkovich and Giordano, 2001) have focused on factors associated with variability in criminal involvement observed at the time of the follow-up interview. However, these analyses do not provide a comprehensive portrait of the central tendencies within these data. In this paper, we examine the well-being of male and female respondents using multiple indices of functioning. We compare male and female rates of arrest and incarceration, drug and alcohol impairment, and levels of psychological distress. We attempt to place these behaviors within a broader life course framework through an examination of the educational, occupational, and family formation experiences of these respondents. We also assess how race/ethnicity independently and an interaction with gender influences the success of the adult transitions of these highly marginal early starting delinquent youth.

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Updated 05/20/2006