Oral language competence and interpersonal violence: Exploring links in incarcerated young males

Criminology Research Grant: CRG 10/08-09

Oral language competence is a basic prerequisite for functional and prosocial development across the lifespan, but has been inadequately investigated in young people in whom behaviour disturbance is the dominant concern. A cross-sectional examination of one hundred (100) young offenders (mean age 19.03 years, SD = .85) completing custodial sentences in Victoria, Australia was carried out. Participants were assessed on a range of standardised oral language, IQ, mental health and offending-severity measures. Language measures were selected for their sensitivity to a range of everyday linguistic competencies, such as listening comprehension, the ability to define words, and to understanding of everyday idioms and other forms of non-literal language. Forty-six percent of participants were classified as language impaired (LI), using this definition.  When the subgroup with high offending scores was compared with those with (relatively) lower offending scores, significant differences on a range of language measures were identified. A range of early risk indicators (such as placement in Out of Home Care) was also examined with respect to language impairment in this high-risk group. Implications for intervention practice and policy are identified.