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Investigating the Association Between Posttraumatic Risky Behavior and Offending in Adolescents Involved in the Juvenile Justice System

NCJ Number
Journal of Youth and Adolescence Volume: 48 Issue: 10 Dated: 2019 Pages: 1952-1966
Date Published
15 pages

Since risky behavior is common among traumatized youth and is associated with juvenile offending, this study examined predictors of posttraumatic risky behavior, the unique contribution of posttraumatic risky behavior in predicting offending, and tested whether a distinct class of youth was characterized by high levels of posttraumatic risky behavior.


Participants were 400 adolescents (25 percent girls) between the ages of 12 and 19 years old (M = 15.97, SD = 1.25) who were involved in the Utah juvenile justice system. Approximately 54 percent of the sample identified as an ethnic minority. Youth completed self-report measures of trauma exposure, posttraumatic risky behavior, posttraumatic stress symptom severity, and offending. Formal legal records of offending were also collected. The results indicated that female sex was significantly related to posttraumatic risky behavior, although age was not significantly associated with posttraumatic risky behavior. Age and ethnicity were associated with both self-reported and formal offending, and male sex was associated with formal offending. Posttraumatic risky behavior was not related to formal offending, but was related to self-reported offending in some of the tested models. Latent class analysis identified 92 youth characterized by high levels of posttraumatic risky behavior; these youth also evidenced the highest rates of trauma exposure, posttraumatic stress symptom severity, and self-reported offending. There were no ethnic, age, or sex differences between youth in the high and low posttraumatic risky behavior groups. These results add to the extant literature documenting the associations among exposure to trauma, posttraumatic stress, and juvenile offending. (publisher abstract modified)

Date Published: January 1, 2019