Objectives: We sought to understand incarcerated youths' perspectives on the role of protective factors and risk factors for juvenile offending.
Methods: We performed an in-depth qualitative analysis of interviews (conducted October-December 2013) with 20 incarcerated youths detained in the largest juvenile hall in Los Angeles.
Results: The adolescent participants described their homes, schools, and neighborhoods as chaotic and unsafe. They expressed a need for love and attention, discipline and control, and role models and perspective. Youths perceived that when home or school failed to meet these needs, they spent more time on the streets, leading to incarceration. They contrasted the path through school with the path to jail, reporting that the path to jail felt easier. All of them expressed the insight that they had made bad decisions and that the more difficult path was not only better but also still potentially achievable.
Conclusions: Breaking cycles of juvenile incarceration will require that the public health community partner with legislators, educators, community leaders, and youths to determine how to make success, rather than incarceration, the easier path for disadvantaged adolescents.