Ecological Context, Concentrated Disadvantage, and Youth Reoffending: Identifying the Social Mechanisms in a Sample of Serious Adolescent Offenders

Kevin Wright, Byungbae Kim, Laurie Chassin, Sandra Losoya, Alex R. Piquero

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

38 Scopus citations


Serious youthful offenders are presented with a number of significant challenges when trying to make a successful transition from adolescence to adulthood. One of the biggest obstacles for these youth to overcome concerns their ability to desist from further antisocial behavior, and although an emerging body of research has documented important risk and protective factors associated with desistance, the importance of the neighborhoods within which these youth reside has been understudied. Guided by the larger neighborhood effects on crime literature, the current study examines the direct and indirect effects of concentrated disadvantage on youth reoffending among a sample of highly mobile, serious youthful offenders. We use data from Pathways to Desistance, a longitudinal study of serious youthful offenders (N = 1,354; 13.6 % female; 41.4 % African American, 33.5 % Hispanic, 20.2 % White), matched up with 2000 Census data on neighborhood conditions for youth’s main residence location during waves 7 and 8 of the study. These waves represent the time period in which youth are navigating the transition to adulthood (aged 18–22; average age = 20). We estimate structural equation models to determine direct effects of concentrated disadvantage on youth reoffending and also to examine the possible indirect effects working through individual-level mechanisms as specified by theoretical perspectives including social control (e.g., unsupervised peer activities), strain (e.g., exposure to violence), and learning (e.g., exposure to antisocial peers). Additionally, we estimate models that take into account the impact that a change in neighborhood conditions may have on the behavior of youth who move to new residences during the study period. Our results show that concentrated disadvantage is indirectly associated with youth reoffending primarily through its association with exposure to deviant peers. Taking into account youth mobility during the study period produced an additional indirect pathway by which concentrated disadvantage is associated with goal blockage (i.e., the gap between belief in conventional goals and perceived potential to reach those goals), which was then associated with exposure to deviant peers and indirectly, reoffending behavior. We conclude that the neighborhood effects literature offers a promising framework for continued research on understanding the successful transition to adulthood by serious youthful offenders.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1781-1799
Number of pages19
JournalJournal of youth and adolescence
Issue number10
StatePublished - Oct 2014


  • Concentrated disadvantage
  • Neighborhood effects
  • Residential mobility
  • Social context
  • Social mechanisms
  • Youth reoffending

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Education
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Social Sciences (miscellaneous)


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