Examining the Research on Juvenile Programs
Community Supervision and Aftercare for Juveniles

A majority (53 percent) of adjudicated juvenile delinquents are given probation while just 28 percent are placed outside the home. Those knowledgeable about juvenile corrections increasingly argue for aftercare and transitional services for juveniles who are incarcerated. In support of this position, two of the recent meta-analyses (i.e., Andrews et al., 1990; Lipsey, 1992) suggest there will be greater reductions in recidivism if treatment is provided in community settings instead of in institutions. However, when Lipsey and Wilson (1998) studied serious juvenile offenders, they found no difference in recidivism for offenders who received interventions administered in institutions compared with offenders who received interventions in the community. National surveys of intensive supervision and aftercare programs for juveniles completed during the 1980's revealed that few programs had been evaluated (Armstrong, 1988; Krisberg et al., 1989). Additionally, the evaluations that had been completed were severely limited in scientific rigor. An exception to this is the Violent Juvenile Offender Study implemented by OJJDP (Fagan, Forst, and Vivona, 1988). This study found that the group that received the additional aftercare or supervision did not have significantly lower recidivism rates.

Most recent studies of community programs have focused on the increased surveillance and restraint aspects and not on the enhanced services of the programs. It is important to distinguish between increases in control, surveillance, and/or restraints (more contacts with supervising agents, urine tests, electronic monitoring) and rehabilitation, treatment, and services (meetings for counseling, drug treatment, family counseling, employment training). Whereas some of the programs enhance services, most of the research is designed to compare increased surveillance and control, not the services provided. The treatment and surveillance components of programs cannot be untangled, and because the research designs focus on surveillance, the outcomes indicate the effectiveness or, conversely, the ineffectiveness of surveillance and control rather than of rehabilitation. Additionally, when treatment integrity is examined, few differences are found between the experimental program and the control in either the services delivered or the impact on risk factors.

The Maryland Report identified six studies that compared the recidivism of juveniles in intensive supervised probation or parole (ISP) with control groups that received other community options:

  • Land, McCall, and Williams (1990) examined the North Carolina Court Counselors' Intensive Protective Supervision Project.

  • Weibush (1993) compared the performance of youth on intensive supervision with comparison groups of youth on probation and parole.

  • Sontheimer and Goodstein (1993) examined an intensive aftercare program for serious juvenile offenders in Pennsylvania.

  • In two studies, Minor and Elrod (1990, 1992) examined the impact of an enhanced treatment program for juveniles on intensive and moderate levels of supervision.

  • Greenwood, Deschenes, and Adams (1993) studied the Skillman after-care program in Michigan and Pennsylvania.

The results of these and other analyses are shown in table 6. In general, the researchers found no significant differences between the youth receiving ISP and the youth in the comparison groups. There was no consistency in the studies regarding which group did better in the community; sometimes the ISP youth had lower recidivism, and sometimes the comparison group did. Only Land and colleagues (1990) and Sontheimer and Goodstein (1993) found any significant differences between the ISP group and others. Land and colleagues found that ISP youth, mostly status offenders with no prior delinquent offenses, committed fewer delinquent offenses than the control group. Sontheimer and Goodstein found that ISP juveniles had significantly fewer rearrests than parolees.

Several studies identified problems with the implementation of the programs. For example, Sontheimer and Goodstein (1993) found that the actual contacts between youth and supervising agents were substantially fewer than the mandated number and that there was a large turnover of staff. This turnover would be expected to create turmoil for youth participants and result in uneven staff training and limited accountability. Combined with an unclear program mission, the turnover led the researchers to question whether the unsatisfactory program results indicated problems in the implementation of the program treatment components, rather than in the program's potential achievement.

Similarly, Greenwood and colleagues' (1993) examination of what the Skillman programs provided for the youth indicated that in comparison with the control group, the aftercare group did not participate more in education or work activities, had little family support, and did not associate less with delinquent peers. Thus, despite the fact that the program was designed to promote changes in these risk factors, there was little evidence of such change. As was found in the previous meta-analyses of rehabilitation, it appears that the program did not have the required treatment integrity to bring about the changes in the risk (criminogenic) factors associated with criminal behavior.

The studies listed above compared ISP programs in specific communities with other community alternatives. The Maryland Report examined two studies designed to compare the recidivism of those who spent time in community supervision with others who had spent time in training schools: the Barton and Butts (1990) study comparing treatment in an inhome ISP program with commitment to traditional training schools and the Gottfredson and Barton (1993) study comparing commitment to a training facility with management in the community.

A comparison of those who spend time in a facility with those who are managed in the community is important because the youth who remain in their own community would be assumed to have increased contact with agencies and individuals in that community. One of the arguments Altschuler and Armstrong make for aftercare is the importance of reintegrating the juveniles into their community: "making arrangements and linkages with agencies and individuals in the community that relate to known risk and protective factors," and "ensuring the delivery of required services and supervision" (p. 2). The Barton and Butts and Gottfredson and Barton studies provide important insight into whether youth who remain in the community actually receive the desired benefits.

Barton and Butts (1990) found that although ISP groups had more charges, the mean seriousness of the control group's charges was greater; however, the differences were not significant. Gottfredson and Barton (1993) found that the recidivism rates of juveniles who had spent time in the training facility were significantly lower than those of the comparison group. The comparison group was not intensively supervised, and there is little information about what services they may have received in the community. Gottfredson and Barton (1993) conclude that youth in the institution most likely received more services and treatment than those in the community.

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