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Am J Public Health. 2015 Jul;105(7):1365-71. doi: 10.2105/AJPH.2014.302228. Epub 2014 Dec 18.

Incarcerated Youths' Perspectives on Protective Factors and Risk Factors for Juvenile Offending: A Qualitative Analysis.

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At the time of the study, Elizabeth S. Barnert was with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Clinical Scholars Program, Los Angeles, CA. Veronica F. Azzi was with the Department of Medicine, University of California, Los Angeles. Bonnie Zima was with the Department of Psychiatry and Biobehavioral Sciences, University of California, Los Angeles. Rebecca Dudovitz and Paul J. Chung were with the Department of Pediatrics, University of California, Los Angeles. Raymond Perry was with Juvenile Court Health Services, Los Angeles County Department of Health Services. Rashmi Shetgiri was with the Department of Pediatrics, University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, Dallas. Gery Ryan was with the RAND Corporation, Santa Monica, CA.



We sought to understand incarcerated youths' perspectives on the role of protective factors and risk factors for juvenile offending.


We performed an in-depth qualitative analysis of interviews (conducted October-December 2013) with 20 incarcerated youths detained in the largest juvenile hall in Los Angeles.


The adolescent participants described their homes, schools, and neighborhoods as chaotic and unsafe. They expressed a need for love and attention, discipline and control, and role models and perspective. Youths perceived that when home or school failed to meet these needs, they spent more time on the streets, leading to incarceration. They contrasted the path through school with the path to jail, reporting that the path to jail felt easier. All of them expressed the insight that they had made bad decisions and that the more difficult path was not only better but also still potentially achievable.


Breaking cycles of juvenile incarceration will require that the public health community partner with legislators, educators, community leaders, and youths to determine how to make success, rather than incarceration, the easier path for disadvantaged adolescents.

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