Staff-Client Relationships, Treatment for offenders, Uncategorized

Absconding from placements increases risk of contact with correctional systems

Practitioners have long known that young people who abscond from placement are at increased risk. Academics from the University of Michigan in the United States have completed an interesting study looking at the relationship between absconding and entry into the juvenile and adult correctional justice systems.

The study compared a sample of 371 young people who had never absconded versus 371 who had absconded. The diagram below summarises the key relationship.

The study also confirms that, from a young person’s perspective, the reason for absconding is because of rigid agency policies about telephone restrictions, worry about family, clothing requirements, lack of respect by adults and unfairness in discipline and living conditions.

Their other findings include:

  • that punitive responses or approaches are unlikely to prevent young people from absconding
  • youth that ran away from placement were significantly more likely to experience subsequent contact with the justice system, compared with similar youth who did not run away from placement (hazard increased by 239%)
  • females were significantly less likely to experience subsequent justice contact
  • within 5 years, more than 40% of the youth who had run away from placement had contact with the justice system. this is nearly double the rate associated with non-absconding youth


The link between absconding and contact with the correctional system is unsurprising to practitioners. If a young person is living on the streets, they can be compelled/pressured/etc  to commit crimes in order to survive.

In many ways the study does not add to current knowledge or to what is intuitively obvious. Namely, that increased absconding results in increased likelihood of contact with the correctional systems. The study is further evidence of the calamitous effects of placement churn on young people. However, the focus should be on why  so many young people experience so many different placements, thus increasing their risk to a whole variety of factors, including contact with correctional systems.


Sarri, Rosemary C., Stoffregen, Elizabeth, & Ryan, Joseph P. (2016). Running away from child welfare placements: Justice system entry risk. Children and Youth Services Review, 67, 191-197. doi:

About graemembaird

I am a psychologist with a special interest in improving the outcomes of families, children and young people in the Out of Home Care and Juvenile Justice systems.
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