Serious delinquency, drug use, school problems, and mental health problems are most likely to be intermittent in nature. For all sites, the most common temporal pattern of each problem behavior was that it occurred for only 1 year. The next most common pattern was occurrence for 2 years, and then occurrence for 3 years. This Bulletin examines only persistent problem behavior lasting 2 years or more. There are some consistent findings about the co-occurrence of persistent serious delinquency and other persistent problem behaviors across all three sites of the Program of Research on the Causes and Correlates of Delinquency.

First, a large proportion of persistent serious delinquents are not involved in persistent drug use, nor do they have persistent school or mental health problems. Although a significant number of offenders have other problems and are in need of help, persistent offenders as a group cannot be characterized as having other problems.

Second, although less than half of persistent offenders are persistent drug users, the problem that co-occurs most frequently with persistent serious delinquency (for males and females) is persistent drug use. Among males who were serious delinquents, 34–44 percent were also drug users; 46–48 percent of female serious delinquents were also drug users.

Third, for males, as the number of persistent problems other than delinquency increases, so does the likelihood that an individual will be a persistent serious delinquent. A combination of persistent drug, school, and mental health problems is a reasonably strong risk factor for persistent serious delinquency.

Fourth, while the co-occurrence of persistent problems and persistent serious delinquency is an important issue, the findings cited above show that serious delinquency does not always co-occur with other problems. For some youth, involvement in serious delinquency and other problems go together. For others, however, involvement in serious delinquency does not indicate the presence of other problems; conversely, a youth experiencing other persistent problems is not necessarily a persistent serious delinquent.

Fifth, the degree of co-occurrence between persistent serious delinquency and other persistent problems is not overwhelming, but the size of the overlap suggests that a large number of persistent serious delinquents face additional problems that need to be addressed. Careful identification of the configuration of problems facing individual youth is needed. This is necessary so that delinquent youth with serious persistent problems are treated for those problems, and youth who do not warrant intervention are not treated, since such treatment may be unnecessary or may have criminogenic effects. The magnitude of the overlap of delinquency and other persistent problems suggests that not all delinquent youth require interventions such as mental health services or remedial education. Rather, attention to the unique needs of individual youth is necessary.

Program of Research on the Causes and Correlates of Delinquency

The Program of Research on the Causes and Correlates of Delinquency is an example of OJJDP’s support of long-term research in a variety of fields. Initiated in 1986, the Causes and Correlates program includes three closely coordinated longitudinal projects: the Pittsburgh Youth Study, directed by Dr. Rolf Loeber at the University of Pittsburgh; the Rochester Youth Development Study, directed by Dr. Terence P. Thornberry at the University at Albany, State University of New York; and the Denver Youth Survey, directed by Dr. David Huizinga at the University of Colorado. The Causes and Correlates program represents a milestone in criminological research because it constitutes the largest shared-measurement approach ever achieved in delinquency research. From the beginning, the three research teams have worked together with similar measurement techniques, thus enhancing their ability to generalize their findings.

Although each of the three projects has unique features, they share several key elements:

  • All three are longitudinal investigations that involve repeated contacts with the same juveniles over a substantial portion of their developmental years.

  • In each study, researchers have conducted face-to-face interviews with adolescents in a private setting. By using self-report data rather than juvenile justice records, researchers have been able to come much closer to measuring actual delinquent behaviors and ascertaining the age at onset of delinquent careers.

  • Multiple perspectives on each child’s development and behavior are obtained through interviews with the child’s primary caretaker and teachers and from official school, police, and court records.

  • Participants are interviewed at regular and frequent intervals (6 or 12 months).

  • Sample retention has been excellent. As of 1997, at least 84 percent of the participants had been retained at each site, and the average retention rate across all interview periods was 90 percent.

  • The three sites have collaborated to use a common measurement package, collecting data on a wide range of variables that make possible cross-site comparisons of similarities and differences.

Each project has disseminated the results of its research through a broad range of publications, reports, and presentations. In 1997, OJJDP initiated the Youth Development Series of Bulletins to present findings from the Causes and Correlates program. In addition to the present Bulletin, six other Bulletins have been published in the Youth Development Series: Epidemiology of Serious Violence, Gang Members and Delinquent Behavior, In the Wake of Childhood Maltreatment, Developmental Pathways in Boys’ Disruptive and Delinquent Behavior, Family Disruption and Delinquency, and Teenage Fatherhood and Delinquent Behavior.

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Co-occurrence of Delinquency and Other Problem Behaviors Juvenile Justice Bulletin November 2000