Interventions to Prevent SVJ Offending

Because several factors put children at risk of becoming SVJ offenders, it is unlikely that intervention efforts directed only toward a single source of influence (e.g., individual, family, school, or peers) will be successful. Multiple-component programs are needed, and priority should be given to preventive actions that reduce risk factors in multiple domains. Because many of the same risk factors that predict adolescent delinquency and violence also predict substance abuse, school dropout, early sexual involvement, and teen pregnancy, the benefits of such early intervention programs can be wide ranging (see table 3).

Table 3: Effective Early Intervention Programs To Mediate Risk Factors Known To Predict Serious and Violent Juvenile Offending

Involving parents:

Bullet Parent management training
Bullet Functional family therapy
Bullet Family preservation

Involving children:

Bullet Home visitation of pregnant teenagers
Bullet Social competence training
Bullet Peer mediation and conflict resolution
Bullet Medication for neurological disorders and mental illness

Involving schools:

Bullet Early intellectual enrichment (preschools)
Bullet School organization interventions

Involving the community:

Bullet Comprehensive community mobilization
Bullet Situational crime prevention
Bullet Intensive police patrolling, especially crime "hot spots"
Bullet Legal and policy changes restricting availability and use of guns, drugs, and alcohol
Bullet Mandatory laws for crimes involving firearms

The most successful early intervention programs involve simultaneous interventions in the home and in the school. Community interventions -- particularly public health approaches that target risk or protective factors -- are also important. The success of this approach depends on the development of data collection methods that specify when, where, and how offenses occur as well as how offenders develop. Wide-ranging community-based programs are required in which risk and protective factors are measured, intervention techniques targeting these factors are implemented, and the impact of these techniques is assessed.

The public health approach can be effective with SVJ offenders because preventive actions often work best when implemented at the community level. For example, centrally mobilized police officers who use community policing strategies and coordinate their efforts with school nurses and other social service and mental health workers in the community can be effective in involving the community in identifying and targeting SVJ offenders. School-based strategies are also useful, especially those focused on school organization or on classroom-based curriculums emphasizing the reinforcement of prosocial and academic skills. The community can also intervene by reducing the availability of firearms and drugs and encouraging norms and laws favorable to prosocial behaviors. Most of these approaches have been incorporated in OJJDP's Comprehensive Strategy.

To be effective, the prevention of SVJ offending must involve:

Bullet Effective screening for children who are exposed to adverse circumstances or who exhibit behaviors that place them at high risk of becoming SVJ offenders.
Bullet Access by families, children, and adolescents to early intervention services, programs, and opportunities that have been determined to be effective in preventing or reducing the likelihood of SVJ offending or in mediating associated risk factors. Effective interventions include home visitation of pregnant teenagers, parent training, preschool intellectual enrichment programs, interpersonal skills training, and medication for neurological disorders or mental illness.
Bullet Preventive interventions based on public health approaches and implemented within a comprehensive, community-based program that targets risk factors in disadvantaged neighborhoods.
Bullet Integration of services, including those provided by the juvenile justice system, mental health system, medical system, schools, and child protection agencies.
Bullet Prevention of gang formation and involvement, drug dealing, drug markets, and violent victimization.

Because gang membership is related to higher levels of SVJ offending, the Study Group identified a number of promising prevention and intervention programs to reduce gang involvement and gang violence. Three such programs are highlighted below:

Bullet The Little Village Gang Violence Reduction Program, operated by the Chicago Police Department, employed targeted control of violent gang members through increased surveillance by probation and law enforcement agents along with a wide range of social services and opportunities for targeted gang members to transition out of gangs.
Bullet The Gang Resistance Education and Training (G.R.E.A.T.) Program, developed by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, is a prevention program being tested and evaluated in 42 schools across the country with very promising results. It uses a structured curriculum provided by trained law enforcement officers to discourage adolescents from joining gangs.
Bullet A third promising strategy under way in Boston and Chicago involves a multiple- component program to target youth gang homicides. This program maintains an online, geocoded information system to track gang violence, restricts access to firearms, enhances prosecution of gang crimes, and provides increased multiagency sanctioning and hospital emergency room intervention.

Table 4: Effectiveness of Interventions for Serious and Violent Juvenile Offenders

Treatment Type:
Noninstitutionalized Offenders
Treatment Type:
Institutionalized Offenders
Positive effects, consistent evidence
Individual counseling
Interpersonal skills
Behavioral contracting
Interpersonal skills
Teaching family home
Positive effects, less consistent evidence
Multiple services
Restitution, probation/parole
Cognitive-behavioral treatment
Community residential programs
Multiple services
Mixed but generally positive effects, inconsistent evidence
Employment-related programs
Academic programs
Family counseling
Group counseling
Individual counseling
Guided group
Group counseling
Weak or no effects, inconsistent evidence
Reduced caseload, probation/parole Employment-related programs
Drug abstinence Wilderness/challenge
Weak or no effects, consistent evidence
Early release, probation/parole
Deterrence programs
Vocational programs
Milieu therapy

Note: Interventions were conducted primarily as single-component rather than multimodal programs. Results from multiple-services programs suggest that some of the interventions that showed less than consistent positive effects individually may have more significant effects when combined.

Serious and Violent Juvenile Offenders Juvenile Justice Bulletin   ·  May 1998