New Study Points to a Link Between Poor Oral Skills at School and Crime

While there is a wide body of research linking poor reading skills at school with later offending, new research suggests language problems at an early age lead to later juvenile delinquency and crime.

More than half of adolescents in the Australian justice system have language impairments, a study by the Australian Institute of Criminology found.

A research paper, Youth (In)Justice, looked into the links between linguistic problems in early life and adolescent delinquency, which can often result in criminal activity, The Australian reported.

Pamela Snow, of Monash University’s school of psychology and psychiatry, who co-authored the paper, said the findings pointed to a “need for more focused early intervention in schools and strategies to improve the early home environments of children.”

The research also suggested a correlation between the level of language impairment and the seriousness of crimes committed.

One study contained in the report explored the language capabilities of 100 young offenders. The report found the seriousness of the offence committed was linked to the level of linguistic impairment.

“Unfortunately, people who end up in the youth justice system usually haven’t had a good start,” Snow said in the Australian article. “When children are parented in a warm, reactive way they are getting a lot of language interaction and learning how to tune into another person’s emotional state.”

American research has led to similar findings. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics Special Report in 2003 about 41 percent of inmates in the nation’s state and federal prisons and local jails in 1997 and 31 percent of probationers had failed to complete high school or its equivalent. In comparison, 18 percent of the general population age 18 or older hadn’t made it through 12th grade.

The positive news is programs in jails may be having some effect. In a 1993 study carried out in Texas, researchers studied 1,717 Texas youths released between July 1, 1990 and June 30, 1992

While they were incarcerated, 475 inmates received their GED.

The researchers tracked these youths for a year after release. The authors found the recidivism rates of those who had attained a GED were lower than those who did not. The re-arrest rates of those who achieved a GED were still relatively high at 41.3 percent. But this compared to 53.3 percent for those who had not attained a qualification.

While intervention within jails may have some effect, it’s clearly preferable to help young people before they end up incarcerated.

Mick Mickelsen is a nationally recognized criminal trial attorney with more than 30 years of experience defending people charged with white-collar crimes, drug offenses, sex crimes, murder, and other serious state and federal offenses.