The Maryland Report's review of the juvenile wilderness and challenge programs concluded that these programs were not effective in reducing the recidivism of juveniles. Although some of these programs did attempt to enhance the aftercare and reintegration phases, as Altschuler and Armstrong noted, the actual implementations of these phases may have been flawed.
Most of the studies comparing youth in ISP with youth in the community reveal no significant difference between the experimental group and the control group. In part, this finding reflects the small number of subjects in each study; there is little basis for detecting any differences between the groups. Only two of the studies (Land, McCall, and Williams, 1990; Sontheimer and Goodstein, 1993) found lower recidivism rates for the experimental groups. The Land and colleagues study findings were not entirely positive because it was also found that youth in the experimental group with prior delinquent offenses committed more delinquent offenses than the control group. The ISP groups in these two studies received more services than the comparison groups; thus, the important aspect may be the amount of rehabilitation and services, rather than the surveillance, received by the juveniles. This interpretation supports Altschuler and Armstrong's assertion that it is important to include appropriate treatment during the aftercare phase. However, it is impossible, at this point, to untangle the effects of treatment, surveillance, and reintegration services, because the control groups in these two studies received less of all of these components than the experimental groups.
The Gottfredson and Barton (1993) study showing that juveniles who spent time in an institution had lower recidivism than those released to the community suggests that the quality and amount of treatment the juveniles receive may be the important factor in reducing recidivism. That is, it is not whether this treatment is delivered in an institution or in the community, but how much and what type of treatment the juveniles get, no matter where they are located. Again, the research design does not permit formation of conclusions about the effectiveness of aftercare.
Taken as a whole, there is sufficient evidence from the studies cited above to conclude that some combination of treatment methods, with or without surveillance in the community, is effective in reducing the recidivism of juveniles. Whether this treatment must be provided in the community is unclear. Similarly, it is unclear whether the increased surveillance of the juveniles in the community adds anything to the impact of treatment and rehabilitation.
The original question posed for this commentary was: Is there evidence that the type of aftercare proposed by Altschuler and Armstrong will be effective in reducing the recidivism of juveniles? Given the limited amount of quality research, it is difficult to answer the question. Certainly, there is sufficient evidence to conclude that effective programs must include rehabilitation and services to address the needs of individual juveniles. The research does not permit conclusions about where this treatment ought to be delivered. It is also impossible to draw any conclusions about the effectiveness of many of the programs, because they were not implemented as they were designed. This difficulty is clear both in this review examining the scientific merit of the research and in Altschuler and Armstrong's review of the programs. Problems with the implementation of programs must be overcome if juvenile justice professionals are to design effective programs and study them. The strong random assignment study that is currently in progress to examine the sites where Altschuler and Armstrong's aftercare model has been implemented is encouraging. This study should provide information about whether such multifaceted approaches to aftercare and reintegration are effective. The next step will be to untangle the effects of different program components to identify the particular components that are most successful in reducing recidivism.