Juveniles’ Probation Noncompliance Predicted by Race, Substance Use, and Prior Violations

Juveniles’ Probation Noncompliance Predicted by Race, Substance Use, and Prior Violations

DarkBlue-Forensic-Training-AcademyHigh rates of probation noncompliance suggest that alternative dispositions may be required for youth with substance-related problems and prior noncompliance. This is the bottom line of a recently published article in Law and Human Behavior. Below is a summary of the research and findings as well as a translation of this research into practice.

Featured Article | Law and Human Behavior | 2014, Vol. 38, No. 6, 580-591


Predictors of Juveniles’ Noncompliance With Probation Requirements


Amanda NeMoyer, Drexel University
Naomi E. S. Goldstein, Drexel University
Rhonda L. McKitten, Defender Association of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Ana Prelic, Drexel University
Jenna Ebbecke, Drexel University
Erika Foster, Drexel University
Casey Burkard, Drexel University


Probation is the most common disposition for adjudicated youth, but little is known about which specific requirements are commonly imposed on juveniles, the requirements with which juveniles most often fail to comply, and how certain youth characteristics and/or imposed requirements might relate to probation noncompliance. An investigation of 120 archived files of youth represented by an urban public defender’s office identified 29 probation requirements imposed on youth and 18 requirements with which youth commonly failed to comply. Results revealed that 52% of youth failed to comply with at least one probation requirement; prior probation noncompliance and race were both significantly associated with noncompliance in the examined probation disposition. In addition, the probability of probation noncompliance was significantly higher when youth received either of two substance-related probation requirements: drug tests or drug and alcohol counseling. Such results may prompt further investigation of juvenile probation-related predictors, identify areas of need for clinical service provision to foster successful completion of probation requirements, and help identify areas of potential biases among juvenile court personnel.

Keywords: Juvenile justice, probation, violation, noncompliance

Summary of the Research

“Identifying probation conditions with which juvenile offenders consistently fail to comply might allow juvenile justice administrators to respond accordingly, perhaps altering the terms of such conditions, revising the methods of supervision, or entirely removing problematic conditions to prevent almost inevitable probation violations and revocations. In addition, identifying youth characteristics that might serve as risk factors for noncompliance could guide reform to better meet the needs of youth in the juvenile justice system, as well as potentially helping attorneys and judges recognize red flags for questioning particular juvenile defendants’ comprehension of their probation requirements and their capacities to comply with those requirements” (p. 582).

“The current study examined the structural characteristics of juvenile probation, the probation requirements associated with noncompliance, and the individual characteristics of juvenile offenders that were associated with probation noncompliance” (p. 585). The authors hypothesized that juveniles would be more likely to fail to comply with probation terms when they had to comply with more requirements, when they were younger at their first arrest, and when their terms of probation had been previously violated or revoked.

Archival data was collected from 120 juveniles aged 10-18 years old who had previously been placed on probation. “Approximately 52% of juveniles failed to comply with the terms of their probation’s at least once, and about 48% of studied youth were committed to a correctional facility after a probation revocation at least once during their time on probation for the examined arrest. Prior probation violation or revocation was significantly associated with outcome for the examined probation, with a medium-to-large effect size observed, such that those youth whose previous probation dispositions had been violated or revoked were significantly more likely to have failed to comply with the conditions of the examined probation. African American youth were more likely than White youth to have failed to comply with probation terms. Contrary to hypotheses, probation outcomes were not associated with youth’s age (whether at arrest or at the time of disposition), the number of requirements imposed at disposition, or the greatest number of requirements imposed at any one time” (pp. 583-584).

“Although more than 67% of the youth sampled were required to undergo mandatory drug tests, fewer than one third of those were also sent to drug and alcohol counseling as part of the terms of their probation. Despite data suggesting high rates of co-occurring substance use and mental health issues among juvenile offenders, fewer than one quarter of our sample was ordered to attend drug and alcohol counseling or receive individual mental health counseling or therapy. The three most common probation requirements defied were mandatory drug tests, required participation in one of two alternative education programs for adjudicated youth, and mandatory school attendance. All three were disobeyed by at least 20% of youth who received the requirements” (p. 584).

Translating Research into Practice

“Results revealing that more than half of [the] sample failed to comply with the terms of probation—and that nearly half of the sample were sent to a residential facility after a probation revocation—suggest that this disposition frequently fails to fulfill the goal of diverting youth from more serious sanctions. Perhaps the current juvenile probation system could benefit from reform aimed at improving the likelihood of youth successfully completing probation, either through changes in the types of conditions imposed or through the amount of support provided to help youth while on probation” (p. 585).

“More than one third of youth failed to comply with the terms of probation after failing a drug test or incurring a new arrest, supporting the idea that youth who only receive conditions meant to remediate risk factors linked to future offending may not be sufficiently supported to stop their unlawful activities. When prohibited from engaging in problem behaviors, youth also might benefit from access to services or specialized treatments (e.g., mental health counseling, anger management classes), and fulfillment of more prosocial activities (e.g., volunteer opportunities, extracurricular organizations) meant to promote resilience” (p. 586).

This research found that youth whose previous probation was violated or revoked were more likely to fail to comply with probation conditions, suggesting that these youth “could benefit from additional guidance as they once again face court-imposed restrictions. Increased supervision alone has been shown to reveal more technical violations than it prevents, and ’tough’ enforcement practices have been identified as ineffective and are falling out of favor internationally” (p. 587).

“The finding that required drug testing and drug and alcohol counseling requirements were each associated with increased risk of probation noncompliance further demonstrates the observation that many juvenile offenders struggle with substance use and abuse. Such a finding may also suggest that these youth are often unable to overcome their substance related struggles to pass court-mandated drug tests, especially when so many of them do not receive substance use counseling in addition to a drug testing requirement. If such an explanation is true, perhaps, rather than punishing youth with known substance issues for continuing to use drugs, juvenile court judges might provide more targeted and comprehensive wrap around services to youth—especially those youth who are struggling to overcome problems with substance use and abuse. Wrap around services provided to justice-involved youth typically include an inter-agency team to fulfill individualized, community-based plans for youth, and such an integrated service approach has been shown to produce favorable outcomes” (p. 587).

“In addition, the finding that African American youth were more likely to have failed to comply with the examined probation than white youth is consistent with research suggesting that a juvenile defendant’s race or ethnicity can affect outcomes at various stages of the legal process. Even if other environmental factors also contribute to the increased rates of minority juvenile probation noncompliance, it may be that minority youth could benefit from increased or improved programming aimed at preventing probation noncompliance” (p. 587).

Other Interesting Tidbits for Researchers and Clinicians

“Compiling data about the probation conditions youth commonly face and with which they fail to comply could help judges, juvenile defendants, and their representatives make better-informed decisions about whether probation and its accompanying restrictions are viable disposition options for a particular youth. This assumption needs to be empirically examined, and quality of programming would likely generate variability in the impact on outcomes. Requirement data might also prove useful to defense attorneys who hope to suggest somewhat unique probation requirements (i.e., employment counseling, parenting classes) for their young clients. If these attorneys can point to statistics verifying that similar conditions have been successfully imposed in the past, presiding judges may be more inclined to accept them in the instant case” (p. 586)

“Individuals working with justice-involved juveniles might also attempt to develop preventative measures specifically targeted at those youth who have previously violated probation. Alternatively, these results might indicate that juvenile court personnel (e.g., judges, probation officers) are less lenient with youth who previously violated probation, using a lower threshold to determine noncompliance. Notably, though, it does not appear that judges’ leniency varied by previous violation or revocation in the number of requirements imposed. Future research might investigate whether any such tendencies in differential requirements exist toward violators and, if so, whether probation officers’ and judges’ harsher treatment of previous violators is intentional” (p. 587).

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Contributing Author

BanfordMegan-picThis post was authored by Megan Banford.

Megan is a graduate student in the Forensic Psychology program at John Jay College. She graduated in 2013 from Simon Fraser University with a B.A. (Honors) and hopes to attain her PhD in clinical forensic psychology. Her main research interests include violence risk assessment and management, juvenile offenders and public policy.

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