Characteristics of adolescent females with limited delinquency : Developmental challenges in relation to family, peers and education

Sammanfattning: Adolescence is a developmental period marked with several changes in a young person’s life. Most adolescents who commit crimes desist over time. Despite this, research has mainly focused on those with extensive and long-term delinquency, including mostly males. Young females with limited delinquency are thus an under-researched group. The overall aim of the thesis was to explore the characteristics of young females with limited delinquency, and relate these features to developmental aspects of adolescence. Further, the objective was to study potential challenges they experience, in connection to family, peers and school. All four studies were based on data from young females sentenced to youth service. Studies 1 and 2 include all (N=144) females convicted in a major city in Sweden during 2007–2012. The data collected through self-reports based on ADAD interviews at the beginning of youth service in Study 1 was further complemented and followed up in Study 2 with registry data on education and recidivism 24 months after starting their sentence. Studies 3 and 4 were based on in-depth interviews with nine adolescent females who started their sentence between 2012–2013 in one of two major cities in Sweden. The results confirmed the assumption that this group of offenders displayed limited delinquency. Their self-reports in Study 1 showed low involvement in crimes during twelve months prior to youth service, which was similar to the reporting of a reference group of females in general. Displaying limited delinquency was supported by registry data in Study 2, showing that the majority of the females did not reoffend within two years after being sentenced, as measured by suspicion and conviction rates. However, they did show high educational deficits. This was evident both by high levels of self-reported school problems in Study 1 and final grade point in compulsory and upper secondary school in Study 2. Their educational attainment was lower than adolescent females in general, irrespective of whether they reoffended or not. These findings suggest that although the females were limited in their delinquency, their low levels of education could still put them at risk for suboptimal development. In the interviews, participants ascribed particular importance to peers and family when describing their delinquency. The narratives illustrated how the process of delinquency as it concerned interpersonal relations involved mutually influential exchanges, both contributing to as well as being affected by the delinquency. As such, delinquency was, in Study 3, portrayed as a way to socialize, where delinquent peers were considered important for committing crimes, and pro-social peers for desisting. Likewise, family relations in Study 4 were given a prominent role in the entire process. Accordingly, delinquency was described as a consequence of the relations to the family, where these were negatively as well as positively affected by the crimes. The collective results indicate that committing crimes for the females may be viewed as part of normative development, in which the quest for independence and establishing ones’ identity can contribute to these behaviors. Practical implications for work with young female offenders are also discussed.