Blog: Evidence-Based Practices

"Scared Straight" Programs on Hold in Two States

juvenile-justice-reform_thank-you-signPrisons in Maryland and California have put their "Scared Straight" programs on hold in the wake of warnings from the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) that federal funding could be cut for states using the discredited intervention.
Two DOJ officials, including Jeff Slowikowski, the Acting Director of the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP), wrote in an editorial published last week that the "Scared Straight" program was "scary -- and inffective," and that it "could run counter to the law."
They cited studies showing that  "Scared Straight" youth are more likely to commit new crimes.

U.S. Department of Justice: Scared Straight is "Scary and Ineffective"

juvenile-justice-reform_young-woman-with-scissors-at-her-eye"Traumatizing at-risk kids is not the way to lead them away from crime and drugs,"write Laurie O. Robinson and Jeff Slowikowski of the U.S. Department of Justice in a January 31st editorial published in The Baltimore Sun responding to A&E television network's reality show, "Beyond 'Scared Straight.'" (Hat tip to the Justice Policy Institute on Facebook.)
Robinson is assistant attorney general for the federal Office of Justice Programs (OJP), and Slowikowski is acting administrator of the federal Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP).
They point to the research showing that "scared straight" programs actually make youth more likely to commit new crimes, not less. They go on:
"The fact that these types of programs are still being touted as effective, despite stark evidence to the contrary, is troubling. In the decades following the original scared straight program, states across the country developed similar models in the hopes that this get-tough approach would make an impact on their impressionable youth. As it turns out, the impact was not the one they had hoped for.
"Fortunately, in recent years, policymakers and criminal and juvenile justice practitioners have begun to recognize that answers about what works are best found in sound research, not in storytelling. Evidence from science provides the field with the best tool for sound decision-making. This 'smart on crime' approach saves taxpayer money and maximizes limited government resources — especially critical at a time of budget cuts."
We applaud them and the rest of the leadership at the Department of Justice for adding their voices of opposition to scared-straight programming for youth in the justice system. Their voices now join the Coalition for Juvenile Justice, the National Council of Juvenile and Famliy Court Judges (NCJFCJ), the Campaign for Youth Justice, and of course Reclaiming Futures -- we're glad to see so many arrayed publicly against an intervention that wastes money and lives.

Update August 2011: in spite of overwhelming research evidence and opposition from juvenile judges, federal officials, and juvenile justice experts,  A&E Television is airing a new series of episodes of Beyond 'Scared Straight.'

Scared Straight -- or Just Scared? Judges Speak Out Against "Beyond 'Scared Straight'"

juvenile-justice-reform-line-of-young-menThe National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges (NCJFCJ) is calling on A&E television network to stop misrepresenting the facts about  the effectiveness of "Scared Straight" interventions with young people involved in the justice system. "Scared Straight" exposes youth in the juvenile justice system (from runaways to violent offenders) to adult prisoners, who intimidate, harrass, and humiliate the teens in an effort to scare them into "going straight." The intervention is now the subject of a reality show , "Beyond 'Scared Straight,'" on the A&E network.
In a statement published January 27, 2011, NCJFCJ wrote:
Although advertisements for the show claim Scared Straight! is "an effective juvenile prevention/intervention program," social science research clearly demonstrates the opposite. In fact, research strongly suggests Scared Straight! and similar programs have a harmful impact on youth and are associated with increased risk for continued delinquent/criminal behaviors. Further, it is clear these types of interventions as portrayed are neither developmentally appropriate nor trauma-informed.
The judges want "A&E to provide a meaningful opportunity to present the facts around Scared Straight! and similar programs." They have joined Reclaiming Futures, the Coalition for Juvenile Justice, the Campaign for Youth Justice, and many other juvenile justice advocates in their opposition to the program.
NCJFCJ's research arm, the National Center for Juvenile Justice (NCJJ), has also released a position statement, "Scared Straight or just Scared? The False Promise and Potential Danger of Scared Straight Programs for Youth." NCJJ takes the reality show to task because it "falsely claims that “Scared Straight” will result in better outcomes and less delinquency among youth participants" when research shows the opposite.

Scared Straight: Don’t Believe the Hype (Facts from CJJ)

[The following fact sheet was released by the Coalition for Juvenile Justice (CJJ) in response to the A&E television network's decision to air "Beyond 'Scared Straight,'" a reality TV show about teens being yelled at and shamed by adult prison inmates in an attempt to scare them "straight." Don't miss CJJ's position statement here, and an editorial from Laura Nissen, "Beyond 'Scared Straight' – Moving to Programs that Actually Work,"  --Ed.]
juvenile-justice-reform_CJJ-logoFirst introduced in the 1970s as a “hard-hitting” way to prevent juvenile delinquency, Scared Straight programs became popular before being thoroughly evaluated. Three subsequent decades of research show that programs premised on Scared Straight approaches are ineffective, counterproductive and costly.

  • Scared Straight is not an effective crime prevention strategy. Randomized trials in the United States, including an analysis of the original New Jersey Scared Straight program, reveal no effect on the delinquent/criminal behavior of participants who went through the program when compared with those who did not.[1] More explicitly, a comprehensive “What Works” report to the U.S. Congress in 1997 of more than 500 crime prevention evaluations listed Scared Straight under “what does not work.”[2] 
  • Scared Straight has been shown to lead to increased offending: Scared Straight programs not only fail to deter crime, but have been shown to result in increased juvenile offending when compared with no intervention.[3]  Research shows that Scared Straight-type interventions increase delinquent outcomes by 1% to 28%. Youth who went through such programs had higher rates of re-offending than youth who did not go through the programs.[4]

National Juvenile Justice Experts: Invest in Proven Strategies, Not "Scared Straight"

[The following position statement was released by the Coalition for Juvenile Justice (CJJ) in response to the A&E television network's decision to air "Beyond 'Scared Straight,'" a reality TV show about teens being yelled at and shamed by adult prison inmates in an attempt to scare them "straight." Be sure to check out CJJ's fact sheet, Scared Straight: Don't Believe the Hype, and Laura Nissen's editorial, "Beyond 'Scared Straight' – Moving to Programs that Actually Work." --Ed.]
juvenile-justice-reform_CJJ-logoWashington, D.C. – The Coalition for Juvenile Justice (CJJ), a national association of Governor-appointed state advisory groups on juvenile justice and allies, questions the value of the A&E series, “Beyond Scared Straight,” scheduled to begin airing on Thursday, January 13, 2011. The planned series highlights an intervention that purports to turn children and youth away from delinquent and criminal behavior. In fact, such approaches, explains CJJ, are shown to have the opposite of the desired effect and to increase delinquency.
“Started years ago with good intentions, ‘Scared Straight’ approaches have now been well-evaluated and shown to have a damaging rather than positive impact,” according to David Schmidt, CJJ National Chair and President of New Mexico Council on Crime and Delinquency. “Research makes it clear that youth exposed to adult inmates, particularly in prison or jail settings, are at heightened risk of emotional harm and anxiety and receive harmful messages that lead to increased potential for them to commit delinquent offenses.[1] Intentionally exposing youth to these risks, even for a short period of time in a controlled environment, is profoundly counterproductive.” 

Beyond "Scared Straight" – Moving to Programs that Actually Work

juvenile-justice-reform_youth-in-hoodieIn the last couple of decades, we've seen an explosion of research that tells us what works in adolescent substance abuse treatment and in helping kids caught in the juvenile justice system turn their lives around. As a result, foundations and lawmakers have raised their expectations: quite rightly, they want to fund "what works."
Which is why it's maddening to see "Scared Straight" held up as a model for juvenile justice on national television in "Beyond 'Scared Straight,'" a multi-episode series on A&E that premieres on Thursday, January 13, 2011.
The original "Scared Straight" program, in which a group of adult prison inmates attempted to terrify a group of teen offenders into "going straight," was the focus of a television special in 1978. Since then, the authors of "'Scared Straight' and other juvenile awareness programs for preventing juvenile delinquency (Review)," a 2002 meta-analysis of relevant research on nine such programs, found that "not only does it fail to deter crime, but it actually leads to more offending behavior."
That's right: "Scared Straight" increases the chance that youth will reoffend, compared to doing nothing. This is retro-programming that went out with other ill-advised approaches years ago. We need to move forward on this issue – not backwards. 

TRI Unveils Research Center for Parents of Teens with Substance Abuse Issues

adolescent-substance-abuse-treatment_TRI-logoThe Treatment Research Institute has just unveiled its Parents’ Translational Research Center, funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). This first-of-its-kind Center represents a significant investment by NIDA in translational research directed toward parents and other caregivers contending with the spectrum of drug and alcohol issues of children they’re raising.
The unique new Center will fund original research, with the ultimate goal being that the findings can be translated and disseminated in the form of tools that help adults navigate the substance use and abuse that all too often present during the adolescent years -- sometimes with serious consequences. The Center’s projects may also impact parents who have adolescents involved with the juvenile justice system.  
The Center’s three research projects focus on different “need states” of parents:

19 Adolescent Substance Abuse Treatment Manuals for Download

adolescent-substance-abuse-treatment_stack-of-booksI just got back from the 2010 Joint Meeting on Adolescent Treatment Effectiveness (JMATE) in Baltimore. I, along with other guest bloggers, will be passing on what was shared in the coming weeks. To start off, here's something Dr. Michael Dennis reminded me of while I was at the conference: Chestnut Health Systems has posted a ton of evidence-based, tested clinical protocols for treating adolescent substance abuse, all available for free download. 
Most treatment providers are aware of the Cannabis Youth Treatment (CYT) manuals:

  • MET/CBT-5
  • MET/CBT-7
  • Family Support Network (FSN)
  • Adolescent Community Reinforcement Approach (ACRA)
  • Multi-Dimensional Family Therapy (MDFT) for Cannabis Users

>>Download them here.
Fewer are aware of the "Adolescent Treatment Models" research funded by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) that followed on the heels of the CYT research. The basic idea was to see whether home-grown programs (vs. models created external to a specific agency) were more effective than "treatment as usual."

Center for Juvenile Justice Reform: Improving the Effectiveness of Juvenile Justice Programs

juvenile-justice-reform_improving-effectiveness-report-coverAnyone who wants to see fewer youth return to the juvenile justice system wants to provide them with effective services. There's plenty of evidence about what works, but the problem has been implementing proven programs at scale. 
So a new publication from the Center for Juvenile Justice Reform (CJJR) at Georgetown University couldn't come at a better time. Titled, "Improving the Effectiveness of Juvenile Justice Programs: A New Perspective on Evidence-Based Practice," it was authored by Mark W. Lipsey, James C. Howell, Marion R. Kelly, Gabrielle Chapman, and Darin Carver. 
It includes a quick overview of the evidence base on what works in juvenile justice, and a review of Mark Lipsey's gigantic meta-analysis of 548 evaluation studies (1958 - 2002) from which are drawn general guidelines on effective practice

Roundup: Systems of Care in the Juvenile Justice System

  • juvenile-justice-system_old-TV-newsHelping Teens in Recovery Starts with a Simple Phone Call. The Science and Management of Addictions (SAMA) Foundation in Seattle is piloting a mentor-by-phone program that now supports 50 teens in recovery after completing substance abuse treatment. The pilot program, "The Recover2gether Project," offers weekly phone calls to teens and two other services. It's funded by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). 
  • Also For Teens in Recovery: "Laughter Yoga." The idea is that laughter -- even fake laughter -- changes your breathing and mood in positive ways. Follow the link to watch teens in a sober high school in Oklahoma trying it out on video.   (Hat tip to the Association of Recovery Schools.)

Bringing Evidence to Practice in Juvenile Justice: Mark Lipsey

Do you have to have a brand-name evidence-based program like FFT or MST to effectively reduce recidivism in your juvenile justice system? Or can a home-grown version be just as effective, if it's based on general principles about what works? 
Researcher Mark Lipsey, of Vanderbilt University, tackled those questions as part of a recent congressional briefing hosted by The Center for Evidence-Based Crime Policy at George Mason University. You can see parts 1 and 2 of his presentation here:

Juvenile Justice System: How Much are Evidence-Based Practices Worth?

juvenile-justice-system_piggy-bankUsing evidence-based practices in the juvenile justice system reduces delinquency and avoids costs. Those of us in the field hear this regularly – but it can be hard to see their impact on a day-to-day basis. 
How do we know they work? Let's start at the beginning. What we commonly refer to as "evidence-based practices" in the juvenile justice field are based on over 40 years of research regarding what works to reduce juvenile crime. Unlike studies that look at single programs, this research looked at over a hundred studies and found what consistently worked to reduce crime versus what consistently made crime worse. [1]

Implementing Evidence-Based Treatment - a Webinar from the ATTC Network

adolescent-substance-abuse-treatment_change-book-coveradolescent-substance-abuse-treatment_laurie-kromResearchers have learned a great deal about what works in addiction treatment in the last ten years. But many organizations still have trouble translating research into practice -- so-called "technology transfer." 
So there couldn't be a better time for a webinar about the Addiction Technology Transfer Center (ATTC) Network's Technology Transfer Model, laid out in its Change Book.
Hosted by the ATTC Network's Director, Laurie Krom, M.S. (shown here), it'll be held October 21, 2010, 2pm - 3:30 pm EST. >>Register here.

Effective Practice in Juvenile Justice - and More: Roundup

Teens in Lockup - a Documentary and a Photo Project about Juveniles in the Justice System

  • juvenile-justice-reform_screenshot-from-JuviesClick on the screen shot at right to check out four short clips from "Juvies," an award-winning documentary from 2004 focusing on youth in California's juvenile justice system who were tried as adults and received extremely harsh sentences (photo at right is of "Sandra). You might also be interested in the "syllabus" assembled by the filmmakers in response to frequent requests for additional classroom resources to supplement the film. 


How to Get Teens to Engage in Treatment, and More: Bonus Roundup

Last week, I received too many links and resources to put in last week's roundup of links related to the juvenile justice system and adolescent substance abuse treatment.
So here's a bonus roundup - there's something here for everyone!
Mentoring At-Risk Teens

A National Juvenile Justice Evaluation Center? OJJDP Funds Available for Data and Evaluation Projects

juvenile-justice-system_Smarties-with-money-logoThe Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) has released additional funding opportunities for 2010 -- this time, focused on different aspects of data and evaluation.  
You can apply to: 

  • Evaluate what works in addressing girls' delinquency. (There's a dearth of evidence now, so you have a chance to be a pioneer.) Amount: $200,000 to $400,000 for a project period of up to three years. Deadline: July 8, 2010. 
  • Propose a research project to evaluate what works in responding to juvenile delinquency. Amount: $200,000 to $500,000 for project period of up to three years. Deadline: June 29, 2010. 
  • Help OJJDP compile and disseminate statistics relevant to the juvenile justice field. Amount: up to $2.4 million, total, for three years. Deadline: July 6, 2010. 
  • Establish a National Juvenile Justice Evaluation Center to assist OJJDP grantees (and communities in general) in building local capacity to effectively design and implement evaluations of juvenile justice interventions. Amount: up to $1.5 million for three years. Deadline: July 9, 2010. 

Implementing an Evidence-Based Practice? Here's What Works

adolescent-substance-abuse-treatment_implementation-research-report-coverFor those of you in the adolescent substance abuse treatment field or the juvenile justice system who are trying to implement an evidence-based practice (EBP), here's a synthesis of EBP implementation research from the National Implementation Research Network (NIRN). It covers stages of implementation, research on core implementation components ... and more.
What's more, NIRN has also posted presentations on implementation research and online guides to different aspects of what works in implementing innovative evidence-based programming.
And be sure to check out these related posts:

(Hat tip to Paul Savery, Adolescent Substance Abuse Treatment Co-ordinator at the North Carolina Division of Mental Health, Developmental Disabilities and Substance Abuse Services.)

NIATx Adolescent Treatment Pilot Project in Wisconsin

adolescent-substance-abuse-treatment-Teen-Intervene-publicationNIATx is working with selected adolescent treatment providers in Wisconsin to identify and remove barriers to the implementation of Teen Intervene. This evidence-based practice has not yet been used in Wisconsin. It is designed for use with teens that are experimenting with drugs and/or alcohol, but who are not “dependent”—a population that generally receives no services. 

Juvenile Drug Courts: Evidence-Based Practices

Got a juvenile drug court? Considering starting one?
The MacArthur Foundation's juvenile justice reform initiative, Models for Change, recently released a set of evidence-based practice recommendations for juvenile drug courts.
Developed in a statewide project in Louisiana, the recommendations focus on

  1. screening and assessment;
  2. improving alcohol and drug treatment (along with treatment for co-occurring disorders); and
  3. outcome monitoring.

(Hat tip to Christa Myers of the  Reclaiming Futures initiative in Hocking County, Ohio.)
Related Post:

Introducing an Evidence-Based, Time- and Cost-Efficient Assessment for Adolescents: CHAT

To help organizations seeking a time- and cost-efficient assessment for adolescents, Inflexxion developed the Comprehensive Health Assessment for Teens, or CHAT, which has been found to be both valid and reliable in research funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA).
The CHAT format is based on the ASI-MV Connect, a self-administered, multimedia version of the Addiction Severity Index (ASI) developed by Dr. A. Thomas McLellan. A number of treatment centers, such as the Center for Drug-Free Living in Orlando, Florida, are using the ASI-MV Connect as part of the NIATx campaign to streamline their assessment procedures [PDF].