A Theory of Hoping For a Better Life Grounded In Youthful Offender Experiences

Main Article Content

Elizabeth Bonham http://orcid.org/0000-0002-8220-0019


Twenty percent of children and adolescents in America experience a diagnosable mental health disorder before the age of 21 and 50% of all incidences of mental illness in youth occur by age 14. In the youthful offender population, the prevalence of mental health disorders increases to 70%. Common psychiatric disorders in the juvenile justice population include anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder. While juvenile justice detention facilities slowly move to a more rehabilitative and treatment oriented approach, there is little known from the youthful offender voice about what happened in their lives that lead to being detained. In this grounded theory study, twelve youth gave voice to events in their lives through individual interviews. The resulting basic social psychological process, hoping for a better life, contained three stages: enduring the loss, persisting the dissension, and discovering a path. The stages result from the experiences expressed with the youthful offenders’ own words.

Article Details

How to Cite
BONHAM, Elizabeth. A Theory of Hoping For a Better Life Grounded In Youthful Offender Experiences. Medical Research Archives, [S.l.], v. 5, n. 7, july 2017. ISSN 2375-1924. Available at: <https://esmed.org/MRA/mra/article/view/1390>. Date accessed: 16 apr. 2024.
youthful offender, grounded theory
Research Articles


(1) NIMH. Transforming the understanding and treatment of mental illnesses. Available from: https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/statistics/prevalence/any-disorder-among-children.shtml [Accessed May 30, 2017]

(2) U.S. Public Health Service. Report of the Surgeon General’s Conference on Children’s Mental Health: A National Action Agenda. 2000; Washington, DC: NIMH.

(3) Cocozza JJ, Skowyra K. Youth with mental health disorders: issues and emerging responses. Juvenile Justice. 2000; VII: 3-13.

(4) Teplin LA, Abram KM, McClelland GM, Dulcan MK, Mericle AA. Psychiatric disorders in youth in juvenile detention. Archives of General Psychiatry. 2002; 59: 1133-1143.

(5) Boesky LM. Juvenile offenders with mental health disorders: Who are they and what do we do with them? American Correctional Association. 2002. Available from https://www.ncjrs.gov/App/Publications/abstract.aspx?ID=196975 [Accessed May 31, 2017]

(6) Bonham E. Adolescent mental health and the juvenile justice system. Pediatric Nursing. 2006; 32(6): 591-595.

(7) Underwood LA, Washington, A. Mental illness and juvenile offenders. Int. J. of Environ. Res. Public Health. 2016;13(228): doi:10.3390/ijerph13020228

(8) Waxman HA, Collins S. Incarceration of youth who are waiting for community mental health services in the United States. House of Representatives Special Investigations Division. Committee on Government Reform-Minority Staff. 2004; 1-15.

(9) Steinberg L, Schwartz RG. Youth On Trial: A Developmental Perspective on Juvenile Justice. Chicago: University of Chicago Press; 2000.

(10) Howell J. Guide for implementing the comprehensive strategy for serious, violent, and chronic juvenile offenders. Washington, DC: OJJDP; 1995.

(11) Arbeit, MR, Johnson, SK, Champine, RB, Greenman, KN, Lerner, JV, Lerner, RM. Profiles of problematic behaviors across adolescence: Covariations with indicators of positive youth development. J Youth Adolescence. 2014; 43: 971-990.

(12) Arredondo DE. Child development, children’s mental health and the juvenile justice system. Stanford Law and Policy Review. 2003; 14: 13-28.

(13) Burrell S, Warboys L. Special education and the juvenile justice system. Juvenile Justice Bulletin, NCJ 179359. 2000; 1-15.

(14) Mallett CA. A focus on childhood maltreatment and comorbid mental health and learning difficulties. Corrections Compendium. 2013; 37(4): 1-7, 12-15.

(15) Yurgelun-Todd DA, Killgore WDS, Cintron CB (2003). Cognitive correlates of medial temporal lobe development across adolescence: A magnetic resonance imaging study. Perceptual and Motor Skills. 2003; 96: 3-17.

(16) NAMI. Mental Health Facts – children and teens. Available from:
https://www.nami.org/getattachment/Learn-More/Mental-Health-by-the-Numbers/childrenmhfacts.pdf [Accessed May 30, 2017]

(17) Constantine RJ, Andel R, Robst J, Givens, EM. The impact of emotional disturbances on the arrest trajectories of youth as they transition into young adulthood. J Youth Adolescence. 2013; 42:1286-1298.

(18) Shelton D. (2001). Emotional disorders in young offenders. Journal of Nursing Scholarship.2001; 33(3):259-263.

(19) Lincoln YS, Guba EG. Naturalistic Inquiry. Beverly Hills, CA: Sage; 1985.

(20) Glaser BG. Theoretical Sensitivity. California: The Sociology Press; 1978.

(21) Glaser BG, Strauss AL. The Discovery of Grounded Theory: Strategies for Qualitative Research. New York: Aldine De Gruyter; 1967.

(22) Stern PN. (1980). Grounded theory methodology: Its use and processes. Image.1980; 12(1): 20-23.

(23) Gilgun JF, Daly K, Handel G. Qualitative Methods in Family Research. Newberry Park: Sage; 1992.

(24) Gonzales JJ, Wells KB, Miranda J. Research development mechanisms. Mental Health Services Research.2002; 4(4): 255-256.

(25) Sanchez YM, Lambert SF, Ialongo NS. Life events and depressive symptoms in African American adolescents: Do ecological domains and timing of life events matter? J Youth Adolescence. 2012; 41: 438-448.

(26) Strauss AL (1987). Qualitative Analysis for Social Scientists. UK: Cambridge Press; 1987.

(27) Sandelowski M. The problem of rigor in qualitative research. Advances in Nursing Science. 1986; 8(3):27-37.

(28) Abram KM, Teplin LA, McClelland G, Dulcan, MK (2003). Comorbid psychiatric disorders in youth in juvenile detention. Archives of General Psychiatry. 2003; 60: 1097-1108.

(29) Kessler RC, Berglund P, Demler O, Jin R, Walters EF (2005). Lifetime prevalence and age-of-onset distributions of DSM-IV disorders in the national comorbidity survey replication. Arch Gen Psychiatry.2005; 62: 593-602.

(30) Huizinga D, Loeber R, Thornberry TP, Cothern L. Co-occurrence of delinquency and other problem behaviors. Juvenile Justice Bulletin. 2000:1-8.

(31) Moffitt TE (1993). Adolescence-limited and life-course-persistent antisocial behavior: A developmental taxonomy. Psychological Review. 1993; 100 (4): 674-701.

(32) Thomas JM, Thomas SA, Burgason KA, Wichinsky LC. Early contact with the criminal justice system and intellectual functioning as risk factors for violent and chronic adult offending. Western Criminology Review. 2014; 15(1): 34-50.

(33) McClelland G, Elkington K, Teplin L, & Abram K. (2004). Multiple substance use disorders in juvenile detainees. J Am Acad Child Adolesc Psychiatry. 2004; 43(10): 1215-1224.

(34) Stoolmiller M, Blechman E. Substance use is a robust predictor of adolescent recidivism. Criminal Justice and Behavior.2005; 32(3): 302-328.

(35) Rey J, Martin A, Krabman P. Is the party over? Cannabis and juvenile psychiatric disorder: The past 10 years. J Am Acad Child Adolesc Psychiatry. 2004; 43(10): 1194-1205.

(36) Smit F, Bolier L, Cuijpers P. Cannabis use and the risk of later schizophrenia: A review. Addiction. 2004; 99: 425-430.