Recent Juvenile Aftercare Initiatives
The Philadelphia Intensive Probation Aftercare Program

The Philadelphia Juvenile Probation Department's IAP was developed to test the efficacy of an intensive reintegration approach for adjudicated youth in transition from State juvenile corrections facilities back into the community. The experiment was prompted by the realization that the most serious, violent, and habitual segment of the State's delinquent population was being inadequately served. The inadequacy was due, in part, to the extremely large caseloads of the supervising probation officers, the resulting low level of contact with offenders in both the institution and the community, and a lack of specialized resources and services in the community. Using an experimental design, Sontheimer and Goodstein (1993) evaluated the program. Eligible incarcerated juveniles had to have at least one prior adjudication for aggravated assault, rape, "involuntary deviate sexual intercourse," arson, robbery, or a felony-level narcotics offense or at least two prior adjudications for burglary. These juveniles were randomly assigned to the program or a control group that received the customary aftercare supervision. The participating juveniles were predominantly African-American (81 percent). Their average age at placement was 17.2 years, and they had an average of five prior arrests -- more than 90 percent had at least one prior arrest for a felony-level offense -- and had spent an average of 10.8 months in confinement.

Additional aftercare probation officers were hired to work exclusively with IAP offenders. Each officer was given a caseload of no more than 12 youth in the community and also was responsible for making regular contact with incarcerated IAP offenders assigned to their caseload. IAP officers were expected to meet monthly with the confined offenders, institutional staff, and the parents or guardian in the home and to prepare a postrelease plan. After offenders were released, officers were given operational guidelines on:

  • Minimum number of contacts with the juvenile per week, which was to decline gradually with satisfactory performance by the juvenile.

  • Minimum number of contacts with parents and collaterals (e.g., school, work).

  • Contacts during nonbusiness hours including evenings and weekends.

Despite these requirements, implementation fell considerably short in several key areas (Sontheimer and Goodstein, 1993; Goodstein and Sontheimer, 1997). These shortcomings are not surprising, because program planners did not address some fundamental issues related to program design and philosophy. In fact, aftercare staff reportedly received few guidelines about the philosophy or mission of the program (Sontheimer and Goodstein, 1993, p. 204):

The program was not defined, for example, as emphasizing a social control or rehabilitative perspective. No effort was made to articulate whether the emphasis of the program would be on enhancing family ties and prosocial relationships, on facilitating educational or vocational growth, on increasing probationers' perceptions of accountability through surveillance, or on some other combination of principles assumed to reduce criminality.

Supervising officers were simply given the contact requirements and then followed a relatively traditional casework approach to supervision. These officers also maintained a reactive, non-individualized approach to noncompliance. As a result, the quality of probation service delivery remained unchanged for some time and contact between officers and juveniles was problematic during non-traditional hours (Goodstein and Sontheimer, 1997). Another operational component not incorporated into the program design and, therefore, absent in program implementation for a substantial period of time was a graduated response capability in the form of incentives and consequences. In terms of staffing and leadership, following an enthusiastic startup period, the six-person intensive aftercare team experienced complete turnover. Consequently, many of the participating line staff had no supervising officers for extended periods. This severe turnover problem -- and the difficulties that both preceded and followed it -- most likely created enormous programmatic turmoil and confusion. Indeed, it is hard to imagine how the program could not have faltered somewhat under such circumstances. Over the full course of implementation, however, the program found its footing and evolved into a model that began to incorporate many of the social control and service delivery elements necessary for an effective reintegrative model of incarceration, transition, and aftercare (Goodstein and Sontheimer, 1997).

The outcome evaluation of the Philadelphia IAP employed a classic experimental design with random assignment of cases. The evaluation was based on the performance of 44 experimental and 46 control cases. The juvenile offenders in this sample were released from a single youth corrections facility between December 1988 and January 1990 and were tracked until May 1990. Thus, the followup period that was defined as time following completion of aftercare ranged from 3 to 17 months, averaging 11 months. The study found that the intensive aftercare group exhibited a significantly lower average number of rearrests than the control group (1.65 versus 2.79) and a significantly lower number of felony arrests (0.41 versus 0.76), but the percentage of subjects rearrested was the same (Sontheimer and Goodstein, 1993). In short, the findings indicate that when routine aftercare is compared with the reintegrative intensive aftercare implemented in Philadelphia, the latter prevented participating juvenile offenders from incurring multiple arrests and did no worse than the former in the percentage of offenders who were rearrested.

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