Evidence on Prenatal and Perinatal Health Factors Associated with Juvenile Delinquency

Authored by: Stacy Tzoumakis , Jesse Cale

Routledge International Handbook of Delinquency and Health

Print publication date:  August  2019
Online publication date:  August  2019

Print ISBN: 9780367256920
eBook ISBN: 9780429289194
Adobe ISBN:


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Research in the health sciences has a long tradition of considering the impact of prenatal and perinatal health on child and adolescent development generally. This same consideration has not been echoed in the field of criminology where comparatively less research has investigated the link between prenatal and perinatal health and delinquency and offending over the life-course. This chapter reviews the empirical evidence on some of the key prenatal and perinatal risk factors that have been linked to offspring behavioral problems in childhood, juvenile delinquency, and offending later in life. These include maternal substance use and stress during pregnancy; low birth weight; prematurity; and, birth and pregnancy complications. While the empirical evidence shows these factors are associated with childhood behavioral problems, and later related outcomes such as juvenile delinquency and even adult offending in some studies, the balance of evidence suggests they are moderated by environmental factors (e.g., parent characteristics, social disadvantage), and possibly even genetic differences in offspring. From a delinquency prevention point of view, prenatal and perinatal risk factors need to be understood in a broader ecological context that accounts for individual differences in offspring, family characteristics and social disadvantage, to inform multimodal and longitudinal prevention of juvenile delinquency. Furthermore, future research on the link between prenatal and perinatal health and delinquency needs to consider a broader scope of health risk factors that have demonstrated links with adverse developmental outcomes in other domains.

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