Structured risk/need assessment tools are increasingly used to orientate risk reduction strategies with juvenile offenders. The assumption is that the risk/need items on these tools are sufficiently sensitive to measure changes in the individual, family and/or contextual characteristics of juvenile offenders. However, there is very little research demonstrating the capacity of these tools to measure changes in juvenile offenders. Congruent with the developmental and life-course criminology theories (DLC) the objective of this study is to explore the existence of heterogeneous trajectories of juvenile offenders across the juvenile justice system as measured through five empirical risk/need areas based on the Structured Assessment of Violence Risk in Youth (SAVRY), one of the most widely applied risk assessment tools for juveniles.

This longitudinal study included 5205 male juvenile offenders who transitioned through the Catalan juvenile justice system between 2006 and 2014. During intervention they received at least two, and a maximum of seven, consecutive SAVRY risk/need assessments over an 18-month period. The heterogeneity of latent class trajectories was explored through growth mixture modeling (GMM). The trajectory class membership was linked to covariates through multinomial logistic regression analyses.

Through GMM three to four heterogeneous trajectories, with high quality of separation, were identified in each of the risk/need areas. The trajectories with low risk/needs (45–77% of the sample) remained low and presented a very limited increase in risk/needs during the 18-month period. The high risk/need trajectories (20–37% of the sample) showed a limited decrease or no change. Between 5 and 13% of the sample had large reductions in their risk/needs levels, and approximately 5% showed a large increase in risk/needs.

In line with the DLC theories this study shows that trajectories on criminogenic risk/needs can be heterogeneous and indicate distinct rates of change over time. The results of this study also may suggest a limited sensibility to measure change over time of SAVRY’s risk and protective items. Suggestions to improve the sensitivity of measuring change over time, such as shorter time frames or future-oriented time frames for the scoring of the items, are offered.

Ed L. B. Hilterman, Ilja L. Bongers, Tonia L. Nicholls and Chijs van Nieuwenhuizen
Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and Mental Health, 2018 12:15