Social support quality and availability affects risk behaviors in offenders

Stephanie A. Spohr, Sumihiro Suzuki, Brittany Marshall, Faye S. Taxman, Scott T. Walters

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

18 Scopus citations


Background: People involved in the justice system are at 2.5 times the risk of HIV infection compared to the general population, which is further complicated by substance abuse. The purpose of this study was to evaluate the role of social network quality and quantity on unprotected sex, criminal risk, and substance use. Methods: We used data from 330 drug-involved offenders. Structural equation modeling (SEM) was used to model and test path directionality and magnitude between the latent constructs of social support quality and quantity on risky behaviors. Results: The SEM indicated the latent construct of social support quality was significantly associated with reduced sexual risk behavior (β = −0.27), criminal risk (β = −0.26), and reduced substance use (β = −0.33). Additionally, the proposed model found that social support quantity was significantly positively associated with increased sexual risk behavior (β = 0.40) and substance use (β = 0.20). Conclusions: Social support quality is an important predictor of risky behaviors; as the quality of an offender’s social support increases, engagement in risky behaviors decreases. Probationers who had broader social support availability also had increased substance use and unprotected sex. Probation systems may be able to reduce substance use and STD/HIV infection risk in offenders by strengthening the quality of social support networks.

Original languageEnglish
Article number2
JournalHealth and Justice
Issue number1
StatePublished - 1 Dec 2016


  • Criminal justice
  • Social support
  • Substance abuse


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