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Trends of Criminal Activity and Substance Use in a Sample of Welfare Recipients

NCJ Number
Crime & Delinquency Volume: 50 Issue: 1 Dated: January 2004 Pages: 6-23
Victoria L. Brown; Isaac D. Montoya; Cheryl A. Dayton-Shotts; Tiffany L. Carroll-Curtis; Micah A. Riley
Date Published
January 2004
18 pages
This study examined the interplay between current welfare reform, criminal behavior, and substance use.
The Federal Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act (PRWORA) of 1996 instituted a compulsory work mandate for welfare recipients. A potential impact of the law is that welfare recipients who have difficulty finding and maintaining employment and thus fail to meet the law's mandate may increase their involvement in criminal activities and substance use as a means of dealing with the stressful changes precipitated by PRWORA. The current study focused on three issues: whether substance-using welfare recipients are less employable and more involved in criminal activity than their nonusing counterparts; whether welfare recipients increase their involvement in acquisitive crime when they are dropped from welfare roles; and whether welfare recipients increase their frequency of substance use to cope with pressures occasioned by PRWORA. This 5-year study was conducted in Houston, TX, from 1997 to 2002 and involved a sample of 534 female substance-using and nonsubstance-using recipients of Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) under the provisions of the PRWORA. Data were collected with the Attitudes, Behaviors, and Skills Assessment instrument designed specifically for this study. The variables measured pertained to demographics, substance use, crime, and economic indexes. The data show that over time, both the percentage of the sample involved in criminal activity and the level of criminal activity decreased among all categories of crime. Only 40 percent of the sample reported ever having been involved in any criminal activity; and those who were involved in criminal activity did not commit acquisitive or violent crimes. Possible explanations for these findings are discussed. 5 tables, 1 figure, and 39 references