Comparative Analysis of the Five Aftercare Projects

Heavily focused on design and implementation issues, the initial IAP research and development project sponsored by OJJDP was planned to build on the existing knowledge base in the field about intensive aftercare. From this starting point, the OJJDP project was to propose a testable model that would include clear guidelines covering program principles, components, and features that appear most promising for reducing rates of recidivism among targeted youth making the transition from institutional confinement back into the community. The factfinding, model development, and implementation work that has been part of the IAP initiative has as its goal identifying and incorporating precisely those factors vital to success. From its inception, the IAP project was conducted with the idea of building on the existing knowledge base in the youth corrections field about juvenile aftercare. Of course, the final word on the effectiveness and suitability of the IAP model awaits the results of the experimental design, multisite outcome evaluation.

The five projects presented in this Bulletin are being widely discussed in the field. This review has highlighted their basic design, the status of their implementation, and, if known, the outcomes. Table 5 takes the IAP model and uses it to capture critical design and implementation features of these five projects.6 The table enumerates the essential components and procedures that characterize IAP operations. They are organized within the phases of the aftercare continuum (i.e., institution, transition, community). In each phase are listed the specific characteristics being used as criteria for comparison across projects. In addition, there are separate headings regarding implementation and evaluation issues. The four projects are listed side-by-side on the top of the table. IAP is used as the baseline (represented by the enumeration of characteristics) against which comparisons are being made.

In light of the discussion of the IAP model, the five aftercare programs discussed here, and the information in table 5, a number of key issues and challenges for program policy, design, implementation, and evaluation become evident.

The implementation of juvenile aftercare programming is still in its infancy. There have been notable omissions in both program design and operation, yet there have also been some positive results. Although the overall picture is mixed, the evaluations and the IAP research and development work clearly point to reforms and changes that are needed. Recommended reforms and changes are highlighted below.

First, community-based aftercare is one part of a reintegrative corrections continuum that must be preceded by parallel services in the corrections facility and must include careful preparation for the aftercare to follow. Institutional services need to be geared to the services, opportunities, and challenges that exist in the community to which the juvenile will return. The institution or residential corrections facility cannot operate in isolation from aftercare and the community. Institutional services that are inadequate, inconsistent, incompatible, or disconnected in relation to what will be encountered in the aftercare community are likely of little long-term value. Additionally, high-quality institutional services are likely of little value if they are not carefully reinforced and followed up in the aftercare community. Accordingly, aftercare is only one phase of the corrections process. The development, implementation, and evaluation of aftercare require equal attention to what occurs during the institutional and transitional stages of corrections jurisdiction. The challenge is that institutional corrections is often highly resistant to change and opposed to interference from the "outside." Institutional programming has become reintegrative in numerous instances, but it typically requires strong leadership from the top and a commitment to developing a working partnership between the institution, community corrections, and the judiciary.

Second, aftercare is frequently funded and staffed at levels far below what is required to provide truly intensive supervision and enhanced service delivery. The community aftercare portion of reintegrative confinement cannot be accomplished "on the cheap." Employing sufficient staff who are well-trained, closely supervised, professionally qualified, and personally committed is an absolute requirement for effective aftercare. Resolving issues related to family, peers, education, employment, and substance abuse requires knowledgeable individuals who have the requisite competency in these areas and are willing to go "that extra mile" in problem solving. Whether through the mechanisms of partnering with other public agencies or through contracts with private organizations, there can be no doubt that a sustained response in the areas of family, education, employment, and substance abuse must be a fundamental part of the corrections response in juvenile aftercare.

Third, intensive aftercare, in contrast to "standard" aftercare, requires close attention via formal assessment procedures to determine which offenders are in need of a level of intervention that includes both highly intrusive supervision and enhanced treatment-related services. Identifying which segment of the incarcerated juvenile offender population is most likely to recidivate is a key to successful intensive aftercare programming. This approach ensures allocation of limited resources to those juvenile offenders who are most at risk of recidivating and who frequently fail unless highly structured, intensive community-based interventions are deployed when they are released from confinement. Targeting the appropriate group also precludes the possibility of applying these kinds of stringent and highly intrusive techniques to lower risk offenders, who have been shown not to benefit from the imposition of such corrections strategies.

Fourth, it is clear that a reduction in caseload size and an intensification in level of contacts are widely accepted operational principles for intensive aftercare programming. Yet, "more" contact with staff is not necessarily a measure of more productive interaction, since a higher level of contact in itself reveals virtually nothing about what is happening during these important periods of contact. Further, specific guidelines and policies about the nature and purpose of increased contact are critical if these interactions are to have positive, longer term impact. Tied to intensification of supervision is a need to incorporate a graduated response capability, in terms of both administering sanctions and providing incentives during the community phase of these programs. Given the high-risk potential of this identified offender population, it is inevitable that the required increased level of contact will result in the detection of technical violations and program infractions. The availability of graduated incentives to minimize the frequency of violations and graduated consequences to respond proportionately and appropriately to misconduct is critical.

Finally, it would be a misreading of the research discussed above to conclude that it is not possible to craft a workable model of reintegrative confinement, which necessarily includes aftercare as its final phase. Movement toward reintegrative confinement within the youth corrections system is occurring, but much remains to be accomplished. Examples of success -- in terms both of implementation and of outcome -- can readily be identified. However, false starts also abound, characterized by inadequate and poorly articulated frameworks that seem to lend themselves to uneven implementation. Nationwide support for effective juvenile aftercare programming is growing. Policy-makers must seek innovative reforms in the juvenile justice system to promote effective aftercare.

6 For a detailed description of the IAP model, see Altschuler and Armstrong, 1994b.

Reintegration, Supervised Release, and Intensive Aftercare Juvenile Justice Bulletin   ·  July 1999