Background. The early identification of risk factors for juvenile offending is one important step in preventing youth violence and offending. This cohort study examined whether perinatal circumstances predicted offending during adolescence.

Methods. Washington State birth certificates from 1974 to 1975 were linked to juvenile justice data to identify all individuals adjudicated between 10 and 17 years of age. Thirteen thousand five hundred seventy-three offenders were compared with a sample of 38 387 nonoffenders matched on gender and birth order.

Results. Both male and female children of mothers who were teenagers at the child's birth or at her first birth, or who were born to unmarried mothers, had significantly increased risk for any juvenile offending, and for being adjudicated for five or more crimes (chronic offending). Males born to unmarried mothers under 18 years old had an 11-fold increased risk of chronic offending compared with males born to married mothers ≥20 years old. Low birth weight and preterm gestational age carried no increased risk for juvenile offending.

Conclusions. Birth to teenage or unmarried mothers are strongly associated with later risk of juvenile delinquency. Although there are multiple, interrelated risk factors for juvenile delinquency, prevention of births to teenage and/or unmarried mothers may help to prevent subsequent juvenile delinquency.

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