Effect of Psychopathy, Abuse, and Ethnicity on Juvenile Probation Officers’ Decision-Making and Supervision Strategies

Probation officers exercise substantial discretion in their daily work with troubled and troubling juvenile offenders. In this experiment, we examine the effect of psychopathic features, child abuse, and ethnicity on 204 officers’ expectancies of, recommendations for, and approach to supervising, juvenile offenders. The results indicate that officers (a) have decision-making and supervision approaches that are affected by a youth’s psychopathic traits and history of child abuse—but not ethnicity; (b) view both abused youth and psychopathic youth as highly challenging cases on a path toward adult criminality; and (c) have greater hope and sympathy
for abused youth than psychopathic youth. For abused youth, officers are likely to recommend psychological services and “go the extra mile” by providing greater support, referrals, and networking than is typical for their caseload. For psychopathic youth, officers expect poor treatment outcomes and are” extra strict,” enforcing rules that typically are not enforced for others on their caseload.