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From childhood system intervention to adult criminal conviction: Investigating sex and Indigenous status inequalities in Queensland administrative data

Matthews, McVie and collaborators at Queensland University, Australia 

It is well known that youth justice intervention is associated with a criminal conviction in adulthood.  What is less well known is whether “cross-over” children, who have contact with both child welfare and youth justice systems, experience relatively worse outcomes and, if so, whether these outcomes are exacerbated by important demographic factors, such as sex and Indigenous status.  Criminal careers scholars have examined the existence and patterning of adult convictions for different groups, but attempts to understand inequality of outcome have been constrained by limitations of standard statistical analysis.  Using administrative data from the Queensland Cross-sector Research Collaboration, we adopt a novel regression model specification more commonly used in epidemiology to explore the cumulative effects of childhood system contact on adult conviction trajectories, and how these associations vary by sex and Indigenous status.

Research questions

How does the association between adult conviction trajectories and early youth justice sanction vary by sex and indigenous status?

How does the association between adult conviction trajectories and childhood trauma vary by sex and indigenous status?

Type(s) of inequality and how inequality is defined

Inequality is defined as the difference in the estimated probability of convictions class membership between non-indigenous men, non-indigenous women, indigenous men and indigenous women.

Approach or method used

First, we calculate convictions trajectories use Latent Class Growth Models (LCGM). We then examine the association between our IVs and convictions class membership using Bayesian multinomial logistic regression, incorporating the main effects of our IVs as well as a random effect capturing each person's intersectional status across all IVs. To understand the results of this complex model we calculate Average Marginal Effects (AMEs) and Marginal Effects at Representative Values (MERs) to translate parameter estimates into the effects of our IV's into probabilities of conviction class membership.


We find that the cumulative effects of child welfare and youth justice contact on the most chronic adult conviction trajectories are present across all demographic groups, but are strongest for Indigenous men. An additional cumulative effect of having both forms of childhood system contact is present only for non-Indigenous women and then only for the least serious adult conviction trajectory. Our findings suggest that the relationship between cross-over status and adult conviction trajectories are influenced by both sex and Indigenous status, and that our novel model specification is a promising method by which to explore the existence of inequalities in such relationships. 

Policy implications

Policy solutions need to focus on preventing children and young people from entering formal systems of care or justice.  Context and demography are essential factors that must sit at the heart of any policy response. Children who are involved with both youth justice and care systems may require particular supports, however, the possibility of providing ‘joined up’ services can be constrained where organisations do not share information or data about their respective client groups. 


Research Team

Dr Ben Matthews
Research Fellow