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With or Without You? Contextualizing the Impact of Romantic Relationship Breakup on Crime Among Serious Adolescent Offenders

NCJ Number
Date Published
January 2016
19 pages
This study examined the effects of breakups in romantic relationships among justice-involved youth—a key policy-relevant group.
The decline and delay of marriage has prolonged adolescence and the transition to adulthood, and consequently fostered greater romantic relationship fluidity during a stage of the life course that is pivotal for both development and offending. Yet, despite a growing literature of the consequences of romantic relationships breakup, little is known about its connection with crime, especially among youth enmeshed in the criminal justice system. Data were drawn from the Pathways to Desistance Study, a longitudinal study of 1,354 (14 percent female) adjudicated youth from the juvenile and adult court systems in Phoenix and Philadelphia, in order to assess the nature and complexity of this association. Generally, results support prior evidence of breakup’s criminogenic influence. Specifically, they suggest that relationship breakup’s effect on crime is particularly acute among this at-risk sample, contingent upon post-breakup relationship transitions, and more pronounced for relationships that involve cohabitation. These results also extend prior work by demonstrating that romantic breakup is attenuated by changes in psychosocial characteristics and peer associations/exposure. The authors discuss the study’s findings, their policy implications, and what they mean for research on relationships and crime among serious adolescent offenders moving forward. (Publisher abstract modified)

Date Published: January 1, 2016