Despite an increase of youth enrichment and engagement programs and initiatives, juvenile delinquency persists as a societal issue that has resulted in negative outcomes for adolescents. The United States Department of Justice, Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention defines delinquency as any act that a juvenile commits that would otherwise be considered criminal if the act were committed by an adult (OJJDP, 2010). These acts can include crimes against persons or property, drug offenses and also crimes against a public order.
The OJJDP’s 2010 Annual Report disclosed that there were over 70,000 youth that were held in juvenile residential facilities, a slight decline from statistics of 2000 census data (OJJDP, 2010). The report further indicated that 7 of 10 juvenile offenders in residential facilities had been adjudicated and committed to a facility by the courts; thirty-seven percent of youth in facilities were charged for an offense against a person; and the most common delinquencies were that of probation violations, parole, burglary, robbery and assault (OJJD, 2010)
Persistent in the juvenile justice system has been the domination of males in the residential population and a consistent overrepresentation of youth of color, specifically African-American males (OJJDP, 2010). Geographically, California had the largest population of juvenile offenders in residential placement, with Florida, Pennsylvania, and Texas following closely behind (OJJDP, 2010). What is clear is that the state of juvenile delinquency continues to necessitate public attention and a review of the effectiveness of prevention programs and treatment modalities. This paper seeks to produce an analysis of prevention and treatment programs available.
Juvenile Delinquency prevention measures are often referred to as delinquency control or delinquency repression. According to Siegel and Welsh p. 400, delinquency prevention refers to intervening in young people’s lives before they engage in delinquency in the first place–that is, pre- venting the first delinquent act. In the US, The history of the prevention of juvenile is closely tied to the history of juvenile justice in this country. From the formation of the House of Refuge, New York in 1825, to more contemporary events, such as amendments to the federal Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act of 1974 (Siegel & Welsh p. 403). Juvenile delinquency can be explained by a number of factors, which may fall under the umbrella of being familial, environmental, psychological, or societal. Juvenile delinquency prevention has its best expected results when there are strategies in place to understand the fundamental predictors to delinquency.
Regardless of the specific risk factors, the significance of delinquency prevention has merit. Prevention holds the key to reducing the risk of youth drug dependency/addiction, school dropout, incarceration, early pregnancy and adult criminality (Greenwood, 2008). Juvenile delinquency prevention programs have expanded in great numbers across the country. Prevention programs seek to address youth who may be identified as being at risk for delinquent behavior. Over the years, juvenile delinquency prevention programs have increased exponentially. However, all prevention/intervention programs do not lend itself to the meaningful or effective outcomes for youth. The expansion of prevention programs requires a careful review of the effectiveness of a these programs.
Effective prevention/intervention programs are those that strategically seek to reduce risk factors and those that advocate for development and testing of prevention programs in order to have the most meaningful effects (Fagan and Castalano, 2012). A review of four juvenile delinquency programs is presented below for consideration. One of the risk factors of delinquent juvenile behavior is academic performance. This was the focus of a study of a prevention program that took place in a rural community in North Carolina that looked at youth in the fourth to sixth grades. The researchers reviewed End of Grade (EOG) Tests from a previous school year to identify students who would participate in a Sylvan Skills Assessment at the beginning of the following school year (Keister, Bodapati, Aeby, Carpenter-Aeby, and Pope, 2007).
A total of 75 students participated in The Sylvan at School Program at a local middle school, where Sylvan Learning Center provided intensive reading services to identified students (2007). The results of the study proved to be insignificant and while the program provided useful information to the school system and community, testing scores were not positively affected by the attempted prevention (2007). This study proposed that if youth were successful in school, then motivation and self-esteem would reduce risk of potential delinquent behavior. There was also the premise that increased parent involvement would be a factor in reducing the risk of delinquency (2007).
While the study had merit in its attempt to address real risk factors, it would fail to meet the standard of an effective program due to the limits of the development of the program and it having not been further tested for its viability. Fagan and Castalano (2012) identified 17 juvenile prevention/intervention strategies that focused on youth 0-18 years of age, and which showed meaningful reductions in delinquency (specifically violent acts). These strategies targeted several risk factors and using diverse mechanisms including early intervention, school-based, and school, and family-focused based interventions. Following are examples of three specific strategies.
Early Childhood Education Prevention/ Intervention
The Perry Preschool program was developed in 2005 by Schweinhart (Fagan and Castalano, 2012). When the program was initially tested, a sample of preschool aged (3-4) African- American children participated in a social and cognitive development program which encouraged active learning through daily instruction of two hours (2012). Teachers were actively engaged with the children through monitoring of their conduct, home visits with the child and family and monthly parent meetings to increase parental involvement and support (Fagan and Castalano, 2012).
Early intervention programs such as these are a growing trend in research, prevention and treatment. There is professional consensus that attending to the needs of children at risk during formative years can result in positive outcomes in later grades and throughout adulthood. The Perry Preschool model has been associated with positive academic and behavioral outcomes which included high school completion, reduced numbers of grade retention and placement in special education, and higher employment rates in adulthood (Mann and Reynolds, 2006).
School Based Intervention/Prevention
Programs with the focus on elementary, middle and high school students have also been effective in reducing juvenile violence and delinquency as these are implemented discretely in the classroom curriculum (Fagan and Castalano, 2012). The goal in these types of programs is to improve the youth’s individual and peer competency through helping youth to effectively recognize and regulate their emotions and enhance communication skills (2012). The Resolve It/Solve It program was developed in 2008 by Swain and Kelly (Fagan and Castalano, 2012). The program is a media-based, peer-led school and community violence prevention program that seeks to increase how students regard individual differences, enhance conflict resolution skills and reduce bullying (2012). While the program has proved to have more positive outcomes for girls, the message in promoting non-violence has been strong.
School and Family Focused Intervention/Prevention
Programs which address school and family focused interventions have their services directed to high-risk youth who reside in low-income neighborhoods and/or youth demonstrating significant issues at a young age. The Multi-site Violence Prevention Program targeted a majority of African American middle school students from low-income families (2012). Developed in 2009 the program involves a social-cognitive cognitive curriculum which seeks to improve students’ problem-solving skills, motivation, and self-efficacy skills (2012). Schoolteachers increased their use of interactive teaching skills, cooperative learning strategies and proactive classroom management as part of the program (2012). Additionally, intensive parent training was provided in all interventions to enhance parent-child bonding and appropriate boundary setting in parenting (2012).
The Multi-site Violence Prevention Program has proven to lend at least medium reductions in youth violence and has demonstrated a consistency in long-term positive effects. As earlier mentioned African American males have consistently been overrepresented in the juvenile justice system. As such, it could be argued that prevention programs where there is significant focus on this population in either explaining or understanding risk factors is relevant. Community based programs that bring together the individual (youth), the family, school, and community are likely the most critical in the development of effective strategies to reduce risk among African American youth (Welsh, Jenkins, and Harris, 1999). The Multi-site Violence Prevention Program is one such strategy that has proven effective among this population.
The treatment of juveniles who have been involved in or at the risk of being in the juvenile justice system is critical. As was shown above, prevention/intervention modalities have been effectively initiated for children as young as three to four years of age in an effort to address the issues and possibilities for juvenile delinquency. Effective treatment of juveniles in the system comes with specific responsibilities to be considered meaningful and significant. Juvenile treatments should reduce recidivism, have well-described procedures in treatment, have well-defined training protocols for therapists, monitoring procedures for treatment and proven evidence of long-term outcomes (Heilbrun, 2005).
Delinquency prevention programs are not designed with the intention of exclud- ing juvenile justice personnel. Many types of delinquency prevention programs, especially those that focus on adolescents, involve juvenile justice personnel such as the police (Siegel & Welsh p. 401). Often, for the purposes of funding, effective programs should also have a documented cost/benefit analysis attached to its program characteristics (2005). Following are two examples of treatment modalities that have proven effective in working with juvenile delinquency.
Multisystemic Therapy (MST) is a modality that is derived from ecological and systems theories (Heilbrun, 2005). MST is a community-based intervention and is said to be one of the most frequently used clinical procedures with juvenile offenders (2005). MST specifically addresses adolescent antisocial behavior and service delivery is employed within the home, school or community with the aim to reduce barriers to access and increase the engagement of treatment (2005). The effectiveness of MST has been tested repeatedly in research with juveniles, including juvenile sex offenders. A study reported n 2009 indicated a significant reduction in sexual behavior problems, delinquency, substance abuse, externalizing problems, and out-of-home placements with the use of MST (Letourneau, Henggeler, Borduin, Schewe, McCart, Chapman, and Saldana, 2009). These researchers’ findings indicated that community-based treatments such as MST are promising in meeting the needs of juvenile offenders (2009).
Functional Family Therapy (FFT) is another treatment modality and has a 30 year history of treating juveniles with conduct problems. FFT has three phases of treatment with different intervention techniques that are used to achieve specific goals in each phase (Heilbrun, 2005). The phases are (1) engagement and motivation, (2) behavior change and (3) generalization (2005). In FFT the presenting problem is seen as a symptom of dysfunctional family relations and thus, clinical interventions intend to establish refreshed patterns of family behavior (Henggeler and Sheidow, 2012). Research studies on FFT have focused much on juvenile status offenders, mixed minor offenders, serious offenders and those youth with substance abuse problems (2012). While this model has been said to have been most used with Caucasian offenders, Hispanic youth and families have also been said to have positive results with FFT when they are matched with Hispanic therapists (Henggeler and Sheidow, 2012).
PREVENTION AND TREATMENT: COMPARISON/CONSTRAST
As earlier mentioned, discussion and awareness of the state of juveniles in society is relevant given the statistics and literature. Juvenile delinquency and the risks thereof are a serious reality that cannot be addressed too soon in the life course of a child/youth. In sum of the aforementioned report on both prevention and treatment for juvenile delinquency, there are similarities and distinctions in each. Delinquency prevention and treatment share in their goal to reduce risk factors and point its service delivery to the most vulnerable populations.
Prevention and treatment programs consistently serve the overrepresented populations of children/youth/families/communities of color, specifically African Americans. A number of proven and effective prevention and treatment strategies are community-based which speaks to programs looking beyond the individual youth acts/behaviors and seeking to address a bigger systems problem. Lastly, prevention and treatment go hand in hand. Prevention equals treatment and treatment equals prevention.
In looking at distinctions between the two, the most prevailing difference is that of recidividism. In prevention, the premier assumption is capturing children/youth before the occurrence of delinquency. This is modeled in prevention programs that are taking place with children as young as three and four years of age. Additionally, treatment programs cannot always have the luxury of taking place in the community when juveniles are placed in custody or in court-ordered residential facilities. This then requires that any family engagement would involve the family being present at these facilities for services. This limitation could inhibit the service delivery process as family members may be unwilling or unable to attend sessions away from the home or community.
The state of juveniles is consistently threatened with exposure to societal and environmental ills that make them and their families vulnerable to risk factors. Programs of prevention and treatment for delinquency are in abundance. However, service professionals working with juveniles should heed and review the effectiveness of programs and determine if strategies are a good fit for the client base that they are working with. Prevention and treatment programs should also be relevant to the contemporary circumstances and issues that are before the youth population today. In closing, prevention and treatment of juveniles should continue to be evaluated to ensure that children and adolescents are served in a most meaningful way and with the hope for our youth to have the opportunity for success.
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Heilbrun, Kirk (Editor); Goldstein, Naomi E.Sevin (Editor); Redding, Richard E. (Editor). Juvenile Delinquency: Prevention, Assessment, and Intervention. Cary, NC, USA: Oxford University Press, USA, 2005.
Henggeler, S.W. & Sheidow, A.J. (2012). Empirically supported family-based treatments for conduct disorder and delinquency in adolescents. Journal of Marital and Family Therapy, 38(1), 30-58.
Keister, J.A., Bodapati, M., Aeby, V.G., Carpenter-Aeby, T., & Pope, H. (2007). The unexplored role of EOGs in the prevention of juvenile delinquency in a rural county. Journal of Instructional Psychology, 34(2), 69-74.
Letourneau, E.J., Henggeler, S.W., Borduin, C. M., Schewe, P.A., McCart, M.R., Chapman, J.E., & Saldana, L. (2009). Multisystemic therapy for juvenile sexual offenders: 1-year results from a randomized effectiveness trial. Journal of Family Psychology, 23(1), 89-102.
U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (2010). How OJJDP is forming partnerships and finding solutions. Washington, DC: Author.
Welsh, W.N. (1999). Reducing minority overrepresentation in juvenile justice: Results of community-based delinquency prevention in Harrisburg. Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency, 36(87), 87-110.
Siegel, L. J., & Welsh, B. C. (2009). Juvenile Delinquency: Theory, Practice, and Law. Belmont: Wadsworth Cengage.
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