Adjusting to custody tough for some male young offenders

06/20/05

Some male young offenders have more difficulty adjusting to time in custody than others and institutions must do more to address factors such as loneliness that hinder their progress, says a University of Toronto study.

"Being in custody, whether open or secure, is more stressful for some young people," says Carla Cesaroni, lead author of the study published in the June issue of Criminal Justice and Behaviour. "There's something unique about being in a facility that adds to their stress. It's not just who they are and what they bring in with them, it's also the environment and the peers and staff they're with."

As part of her master's thesis at U of T's Centre of Criminology, Cesaroni and co-author Professor Michele Peterson-Badali of the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education of the U of T interviewed 113 incarcerated male youth, ages 13 to 19, in both open (similar to group homes) and secure custody facilities in Ontario. In order to understand adjustment to custody, Cesaroni asked each offender questions to determine pre-existing risk factors previous convictions, family life, academics, level of self-esteem and institutional risk, such as how fearful they are, how many friends they have, do they feel they can talk to staff.

Although most reported adapting well to their new surroundings, 10 to 15 per cent appeared to find custody quite stressful. "Kids who come in with a lot of vulnerabilities, who are also isolated and fearful in the institution, are the ones finding it difficult," says Cesaroni. "If institutions can help vulnerable youth develop positive relationships with their peers and staff, this is just one factor that could help to improve feelings of safety and security and aid in their rehabilitation. Staff can play a critical role in fostering a pro-social institutional environment."

"When youth are in a custody setting, we want to work with them and involve them in programming and cognitive behaviourial therapy," adds Cesaroni. "This becomes much more difficult if they are concerned about their day-to-day well-being."

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Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 21 Feb 2009
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