Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Risk factors of youth charged with murder

Oct. 22, 2014
Iowa State University

News of a school shooting or a homicide involving a teenage suspect always leads to the question of why? It is human nature to want an explanation or someone to blame, and policymakers try to pinpoint a cause in an effort to prevent it from happening again. But too often, the speculation or rush to judgment clouds reality, said Matt DeLisi, a professor of sociology and criminal justice at Iowa State University.

“Anytime you have violence, such as a school shooting, people gravitate to single-item explanations that cite mental illness, guns, bullying or peer pressure,” DeLisi said. “All of these factors likely have an influence, but there’s really no silver bullet.”

Instead, DeLisi and his colleagues at the University of Texas at Dallas found a handful of risk factors that are predictors, or distinguish homicide youth offenders from other serious offenders. Age was a factor, but those charged with murder also had a significantly lower IQ, higher exposure to violence, perceived that they lived in a violent or chaotic neighborhood, and were more likely to carry a gun. The study is published in the journal Youth Violence and Juvenile Justice.


Of the five risk factors identified in the study, exposure to violence had the most significant difference between the two groups, DeLisi said. It is important to note that researchers looked at direct observational exposure to violence, not media violence or vicarious exposure. Offenders were asked whether they had ever witnessed a rape, shooting or an assault, and if they had ever been chased and thought they would be seriously hurt.

“The homicide offenders came from much more impoverished areas, with more violence day in and day out that they seem to be disengaged. When you observe that much violence it becomes very normal to you,” DeLisi said. “It’s really the worst of all worlds. They live in bad neighborhoods; have a lot of family dysfunction and family members who are involved in crime or who are victims of homicide.”

DeLisi also pointed out that offenders with low IQ levels generally lack the verbal skills to effectively communicate or diffuse a situation. As a result, they may resort to violence. If you couple that with the fact that they are also more likely to carry a gun, it is easy to see how a situation can escalate to deadly violence, DeLisi said.


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