Examining the Research on Juvenile Programs

Although the literature reviews and the meta-analyses provide strong evidence of the effectiveness of rehabilitation programs, they give little information about the specific characteristics of the effective programs. The Maryland Report reviewed two types of juvenile programs: wilderness/challenge-type programs and community supervision.

The wilderness or Outward Bound-type programs were particularly popular for juveniles during the late 1970's and early 1980's. These programs emphasized physical challenge and required participants to do more than what they believed they could do. Assessment of these programs is relevant to conclusions about the effectiveness of aftercare because most of the programs included some type of aftercare. Outcome evaluations of these programs have been extremely rare (Gendreau and Ross, 1987). The Maryland Report identified four program evaluations that received scores of 2 or higher on the Maryland scale: the Greenwood and Turner (1987) study of VisionQuest; the Deschenes, Greenwood, and Marshall (1996) study of the Nokomis Challenge Program in the Michigan Department of Social Services; the RAND research examining the effectiveness of the Paint Creek Youth Center in southern Ohio (Greenwood and Turner, 1993); and the Castellano and Soderstrom (1992) study of the Spectrum program in Illinois.

Overall, these studies of wilderness and challenge programs produced mixed results. The VisionQuest participants had significantly fewer arrests (39 percent) than the control group (71 percent) (Greenwood and Turner, 1987). The Nokomis participants had significantly more arrests (48 percent) than the control group (23 percent) (Deschenes, Greenwood, and Marshall, 1996). Paint Creek youth had fewer official arrests (51 percent) than control group youth (61 percent), but they self-reported more serious offenses (75 percent) than the control group (62 percent), although neither of the comparisons was statistically significant (Greenwood and Turner, 1993). Spectrum youth did not differ from control group youth in recidivism (Castellano and Soderstrom, 1992).

Although several of the studies were well designed, problems that arose in the research with the small number of subjects, attrition, and study implementation limit the conclusions that can be drawn about the effectiveness of the programs in preventing crime. The studies of VisionQuest and Spectrum were evaluated as 2's on the Maryland scale, making it hard to draw any conclusions from the results. The remaining two programs were evaluated as 3's on the Maryland scale and, thus, of reasonable scientific merit. The one program that included both a strong research design and a reduction in recidivism was Paint Creek (although the reduction was not statistically significant). Interestingly, this program followed many of the principles proposed by Andrews and colleagues (1990). High-risk youth were targeted for participation in the intensive program, which used a cognitive/behavioral mode of treatment. However, problems with the research design severely limited the study's potential for detecting differences, even if the Paint Creek program had been effective. The other programs targeted individuals at lower risk for recidivism (Nokomis, Spectrum), were of short duration (Spectrum), were less behavioral in treatment philosophy, or focused on noncriminogenic factors such as physical challenge (Spectrum). Thus, from the perspective of The Maryland Report, studies of the wilderness and challenge programs do not provide evidence that they are effective in reducing future criminal behavior.

These programs attempted to provide reintegration services to the participants. As a result, the mixed aftercare findings were disappointing. For example, Nokomis was designed to focus on relapse prevention. The youth were expected to spend less time in the residential facility but a longer time in community treatment than the comparison youth in the training schools. However, the study of the program implementation revealed that the aftercare phase of Nokomis failed to provide many of the expected treatment programs. The youth received limited substance abuse treatment, and the control group youth had more family counseling than the treatment group.

The Paint Creek Youth Center also sought to provide reintegration services. The center's small size, problem-oriented focus, cognitive/behavioral methods, family group therapy, and intensive community reintegration and aftercare were promising features. However, many of the Paint Creek youth were dismissed from the program and sent to the training school. Thus, it is difficult to draw conclusions about the impact of the reintegration and aftercare provided, because many of the youth did not receive the full Paint Creek program.

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