Examining the Influence of Risk Factors Across Rural and Urban Communities

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Publication Date

Winter 12-1-2016


Social Work


Objective: Juvenile offending persists as a problem across geographic contexts, yet policymakers and social work practitioners have traditionally relied solely on urban research due to the lack of literature on rural delinquency. The purpose of this study is to examine the differential influence of demographic, behavioral, and school-related factors on juvenile offending in rural and urban settings.

Method: The sample included kindergarten through 12th grade students (N = 615,297) who attended Louisiana public schools between 1996 and 2012. Data were obtained from state-wide administrative databases. Contact with the juvenile justice system, offense severity, and offending trajectory comparisons between youth in rural and urban environments were examined using multilevel mixed-effects logistic regression models and average adjusted predictive margins.

Results: Factors that significantly increased the odds of juvenile justice contact in all models were African American race, male gender, grade retention, receiving free lunch (a proxy for poverty), birth year (cohort control), average yearly absences from school, and previous juvenile justice contact. The relative influences of these variables were similar across rural and urban contexts. In the overall model, odds were greater that rural students would encounter the juvenile justice system than urban students would.

Conclusions: The increased odds of juvenile justice contact among rural youth contradicts much of the existing literature. Researchers must direct more attention to youth crime across geographic contexts to understand trends in rural areas and adapt interventions accordingly.

Publication Title

Journal of the Society for Social Work and Research





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