Therapeutic programs that focus on building skills, repairing relationships, and sharpening insight reduce juvenile recidivism more than those that employ discipline, deterrence through fear, or surveillance according to new research.
This new class of juvenile delinquency prevention programs can also save taxpayers $7-$10 for every dollar invested, researchers Peter W. Greenwood and Brandon C. Welsh claim.
There are three distinct categories of effective programs: brand name, generic, or principles.
Brand name programs are those with distinct names that have reputations for successful reformation, such as Functional Family Therapy.
Programs that employ strategies traditionally regarded as effective, such as counseling, fall into the category of generics.’
Principles programs employ techniques, such as focusing on repeat offenders that have typically proven beneficial in the past.
These programs are considered evidence-based, meaning the scientific process has verified the effectiveness of each program.
However, despite the proven effectiveness of these programs, state governments continue to focus their efforts and taxpayer dollars on criminal justice programs that do not reduce juvenile delinquency, the report claims.
California, Connecticut, Florida, Maryland, New York, Pennsylvania, and Washington lead the country in promoting evidence-based programs, according to the study. Programs that rely on less therapeutic forms do little to reduce juvenile recidivism, the research concludes.
Several states responded to these findings with explicit steps to implement programs with more therapeutic characteristics, but even among proactive states, these proven programs comprise a small portion of the whole. In addition, 95 percent of the youth eligible for that small portion do not participate in the programs, the research found.
Greenwood and Welsh give several reasons for the disconnect.
One reason is the low-level of accountability the juvenile justice system has for performance. Another is the political resistance from established programs, their advocates, and the politicians who benefit from them.
“Allocating contracts among social service, drug treatment, and mental health providers is one of the biggest perks of local political office, especially in lower income areas,” writes Greenwood. “We can hope that in the future, political officers will choose to benefit the larger community as a whole instead of a few selected individuals when allocating contracts to programs proven to work.”