Sometimes research seems to prove the obvious, but there are times when research challenges what we think we know and has the potential to change programs and policies. This month’s Research Watch reviews studies with important implications for dealing with youths on parole, and for improving safety for youth soccer players and young women.
Save Money With Drug Testing for Parolees?
Drug Testing for Youthful Offenders on Parole: An Experimental Evaluation
Rudy Haapanen and Lee Britton.
Criminology & Public Policy, Vol. 1, March 2002,
pp. 217-244. Available free from Haapanen at California Youth Authority, Research Division, 4241 Williamsborough Dr., Sacramento, CA 95823 or http://firstname.lastname@example.org.
Drugs and crime go together, and routine drug testing is an established procedure for youth on parole. A new study in an interesting new journal, Criminology and Public Policy, provides useful information about how often these tests should be conducted and how effective they actually are.
This well-designed study of almost 2,000 parolees from the California Youth Authority (CYA) randomly assigned the youth and young adults to one of the following levels of routine drug testing during their paroles (up to 24 months):
1. None (tests were only conducted after a subsequent arrest).
2. No routine tests but tested once or twice during the initial three-month re-entry.
3. Tested every two months, with monthly tests during the three-month re-entry.
4. Once a month, with one test every two weeks during re-entry.
5. Once every two weeks, with one test every week during re-entry.
Those tested once or twice a month were tested at virtually every contact, so that it was less of a surprise. For the others, testing seemed unpredictable. Moreover, the reality was not exactly the same as the study design: One-third of the parolees in the “no-test” level were tested at least once, those who were supposed to be tested every month were tested slightly less often, and those who were supposed to be tested twice a month were tested an average of 1.4 times per month.
These were serious young offenders with long histories of criminal behavior. More than half were convicted of violent crimes. Although most had substance-abuse problems and many had been arrested for drug offenses, only 12 percent were actually committed for drug offenses.
Most of the youths were black (41 percent) or Hispanic (39 percent), aged 18 or 19 at the time of parole. Almost all (97 percent) were male. Thirty percent were 20 to 22. (The CYA maintains jurisdiction for youth offenders on parole up to age 25 in some cases.)
Only 9 percent of the drug tests were positive, which is lower than expected based on studies in other states. Nevertheless, 59 percent of the youths were re-arrested during the first 24 months of parole and 76 percent were re-arrested within 42 months.
Surprisingly, there were no significant differences in re-arrests based on the frequency of drug testing. Contrary to expectations, parolees who were tested more often were slightly more likely to be re-arrested. That means that it is probably unnecessary to spend the extra money and staff resources for additional testing, since testing did not affect re-arrests and may even have had a slightly detrimental impact. More importantly, parole agents could spend more time talking to the parolees rather than conducting drug tests.
The results show, however, that drug use is related to later arrests. Parolees who tested positive for drugs during the initial three-month re-entry were more likely to be arrested at some point during the 42 months of the study. This was true for all kinds of crimes and regardless of how frequently they were tested for drugs.
It is important to note that the frequency of drug testing varied only within the first two years. The follow-up at 42 months took place almost two years after the study was completed.
Although this study covered only California parolees and its implications for parolees in other states is unclear, it certainly suggests that assumptions about the usefulness of frequent drug testing have been incorrect. After the initial three-month period, drug tests do not appear to predict or help prevent either drug use or criminal behavior.
The researchers speculate that the repeated drug testing caused resentment and therefore increased the parolees’ likelihood of failure. Although the authors didn’t mention it, it is also likely that the parolees probably expected to be tested – if they weren’t tested at the previous visit they might have assumed they would be tested the next time.
This expectation of being tested might have reduced drug use. If it were widely known that parolees were never tested for drug use after the initial three months, parolees might be more likely to use drugs.
Soccer and Brain Injuries
Is Soccer Bad for Children’s Heads?
Institute of Medicine.
National Academy Press, 2002.
Available free at www.nap.edu or order online ($9.60) or at (800) 624-6242 ($12).
Soccer is a very popular sport for youth. So when the National Academy of Sciences asks if soccer is bad for children’s heads, we should pay attention to the answer.
Unfortunately, the answer is yes. The Institute of Medicine, which was established by the National Academy of Sciences, brought together researchers at a meeting that is the basis for this report. They concluded that head injuries are more common in soccer than in other sports: Neuropsychologist Jill Brooks’ study of high school soccer players found that more than one in four had experienced one or more concussions.
Surprisingly, “heading” the ball (intentionally using the head to pass or move the ball in a different direction) is probably a small part of the problem, since the ball is unlikely to be moving fast enough to cause a concussion. However, youths who head the ball are probably at greater risk of knocking their heads into someone behind them. And more aggressive players are at more risk of head collisions with other players and goalposts, or when they fall on the ground.
Concussions are defined as brain injuries that cause an alteration in mental status. It’s more than “being dazed” and less than a coma. It does not necessarily cause loss of consciousness, but even if it does, unconsciousness may last only a few seconds and not be noticed.
Other symptoms, such as headache, lightheadedness, diminished concentration, poor memory, irritable or depressed mood, difficulty sleeping, or problems with bright light or loud noise may not be noticed or may not become obvious until a few days later. Many concussions are not reported by the youths, who either don’t think the injuries are serious or just want to keep playing.
Concussions are difficult to diagnose and x-rays and other brain imaging methods are not always accurate. Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) can detect small amounts of bleeding in the brain, but MRIs are expensive and difficult to do, so doctors
rarely order them for a concussion patient unless they suspect a life-threatening condition.
As a result, many concussions are not diagnosed or taken seriously. If a second concussion occurs before the brain recovers from the first (which can take weeks) energy-starved brain cells will be more likely to die. This can cause a swelling of the brain, even if one of the “bangs to the head” seems quite minor.
The result can be serious, long-lasting brain damage, disability, or even death. Youth may be more vulnerable than adults because the human brain does not reach maturity until age 20 and the higher concentration of water in a young brain can indirectly cause the death of brain tissue.
What’s the solution for coaches and others who work with youth? Joseph Crisco, a bioengineer who is director of research for the National Operating Committee on Standards for Athletic Equipment, questions whether helmets could help protect children. In the report he states that helmets might not prevent concussions and speculates that adults and children might assume that they do, and therefore worry less about safety. Instead, he suggests developing safer soccer balls to address part of the problem.
By being more aware of these potential dangers, youth workers can help soccer players and other athletes who have hurt their heads by asking about symptoms, calling a timeout immediately after a player is injured in order to determine if the player has lost consciousness, seeking medical attention after head injuries occur, and taking a more cautious approach to putting players back in the game (or in later games) after head injuries.
Is Stalking More Common Than We Think?
Being Pursued: Stalking Victimization in a National Study of College Women
Bonnie Fisher, Francis Cullen, Michael Turner.
Criminology & Public Policy, Vol. 1, March 2002, pp. 257-308.
Available free from Fisher at Bonnie.Fisher@uc.edu.
As more and more attention has been paid to violence against women and girls, research has started to include stalking as a potential problem. This study shows that stalking disrupted the lives of 13 percent of a national sample of college women during a seven-month period.
Stalking only rarely resulted in physical harm, but it was frightening and disturbing, lasting an average of two months and resulting in frequent unwanted contact. Nine out of 10 of the almost 4,500 young women in the study were full-time students, and 86 percent were undergraduates.
Stalking was defined as repeated, unwanted pursuit behaviors (such as following, watching, phone calls, e-mails or other contacts) that “seemed obsessive and made you afraid or concerned for your safety.” The students reported nine kinds of stalking behaviors, and on average reported that a stalker pursued them in three different ways.
Three out of four stalkers made phone calls, three in 10 sent letters, and one in four sent e-mails. Most students reported that the stalking took place two to six times a week. Half the women reported being stalked for two months or more.
Almost all (98 percent) of the stalkers were male, four out of five were acquainted with the victim, and almost half of those who were acquainted were a boyfriend or former boyfriend. Most of the others were classmates, “friends” or co-workers.
And most of the stalking was not reported to the police or to campus law enforcement officials. Most thought the incidents would not be considered serious enough for police to pursue.
The authors of the article focus primarily on convincing the reader that stalking is a serious problem and considering how college campuses can help reduce this problem. Youth workers may think about this research in other ways. Although not the most important problem facing youth today, stalking is worthy of attention because it makes girls feel vulnerable, and it is apparently more common than we realize. It takes many forms, in addition to physically following girls.
By asking youth about stalking and other unwanted attention, youth workers can encourage boys to stop as well as provide the support girls need to report stalking or help them do something to stop it.