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Uneven Playing Field: The Impact of Strain and Coping Skills on Treatment Outcomes for Juvenile Offenders

NCJ Number
Journal of Criminal Justice Volume: 40 Issue: 3 Dated: May/June 2012 Pages: 238-248
Miriam D. Sealock; Michelle Manasse
Date Published
June 2012
11 pages
In testing the power of General Strain Theory (GST) to explain criminal behavior, this study examined the experiences of a group of drug-abusing juvenile offenders following their release from a residential treatment facility, in order to determine how pre-existing levels of strain and coping skills affected their ability to benefit from the treatment program and avoid recidivism and relapse.
Contrary to expectations, there were no direct effects of "strain" (adverse experiences that stimulate negative emotions) and few direct effects of coping skills on offending. Only social coping skills had a significant effect on recidivism, and these results varied by both offense and race. Among individuals in the full sample, higher levels of social coping skills reduced the likelihood of interpersonal aggression and property offenses, but had no effect on drug use. Whereas higher social coping skills significantly reduced all forms of offending among Black males, there were no direct effects for White males. Such limited direct effects, particularly of strain, may be due to the nature of this sample. Juvenile offenders who had been identified as sufficiently high-risk to be brought into the juvenile justice system were likely to have higher levels of strain than the average population; therefore, within this population, variation in the experience of strain may account for less variation in recidivism than the way in which factors such as coping skills condition the effect of that strain on offending. The findings also highlight consistent differences by race in the effect of strain and coping skills on the success of the residential treatment program. A primary model of effective rehabilitation suggests that the factors of risk, need, and responsivity are paramount in reducing post-treatment recidivism. 3 tables, 7 notes, 68 references, and appended self-report questionnaire