While there is a strong push for state and local juvenile justice practitioners to incorporate research into their grant proposals, many practitioners have a difficult time locating relevant evaluation studies and applying them to a specific program or policy. In many situations, an evaluation of the exact program plan implemented in the same setting with the same target population is simply not available. In addition, many high-quality juvenile justice evaluations are published in academic journals. Access to these journals can be cost-prohibitive, creating an additional barrier to the use of this research in real-world settings.
Despite these hurdles, it is almost always possible to work research and evaluation into a grant proposal. There is a substantial amount of juvenile justice-related research that is free and accessible from federal agencies such as the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) and the National Criminal Justice Reference Service (NCJRS); non-profit organizations such as the National Center for Juvenile Justice (NCJJ); and state agencies such as Statistical Analysis Centers and departments of juvenile justice. Studies relevant to some aspect of your program can be used to provide grounding for your plan of action and support the likelihood that your program or policy will be a success, even if the research does not evaluate the exact policy or program plan you intend to implement.
Relevant research can be used to support the selection of program activities, the degree of change you expect to observe, the amount of time it will take for program activities to affect program youth, and the measures you will use to collect program data. It is also possible (and important!) to incorporate findings from the field for a program that is not yet considered an evidence-based practice, in order to explain and justify program logic.
For example, OJJDP’s Pathways to Desistance Publication Series provides research of interest to juvenile justice practitioners on a range of ￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼topics. The Pathways to Desistance data are longitudinal, meaning they measure the same variables over time, and were collected in two locations: Philadelphia County, Pennsylvania and Maricopa County, Arizona.
The purpose of this research was to collect information on adjudicated youth and follow their transitions into adulthood. Research conducted using these data covers a variety of juvenile justice-related issues, including mental health, substance abuse, recidivism, and juvenile incarceration. A juvenile justice practitioner whose work focuses on any of these issues might gain useful information from analyses of the Pathways to Desistance data.
The OJJDP Juvenile Justice Bulletin Substance Use and Delinquent Behavior Among Serious Adolescent Offenders outlines key findings from Pathways to Desistance data analysis in a plain-language summary. One of the key findings is that substance use and serious offending change in the same way over time, suggesting that they are related. The bulletin explicitly notes that no causal relationship was established in this study. In other words, the finding could be used to support the need for substance abuse treatment among serious adolescent offenders, but does not support the idea that addressing substance abuse prevents delinquency. This finding could be used to support programs that offer substance abuse treatment for serious offenders, but could not be used to support the use of substance abuse treatment to prevent serious offending.
The Pathways to Desistance website also offers a codebook for the data, so anyone working with youth can see what types of measures were collected on a given topic. For example, under the topic Offense History, the codebook provides measures such as the number of times a youth has been arrested in his or her lifetime, the age the first time he or she was arrested, whether or not the youth received a court summons, etc. The codebook also describes the method and frequency of data collection. In the case of Offense History, the data are self-reported by the youth at baseline, meaning each youth provided this information at the point he or she entered the study. Practitioners might use this information, along with codebooks from other similar studies, to support their data collection choices.
It is important to note how the research you use in your proposal relates to your specific situation, and also to acknowledge the caveats. For example, youth included in the Pathways to Desistance data were at least 14 years old at the time they entered the study, and all were adjudicated for a serious offense. Findings from this study may not apply to juveniles under the age of 14, or youth who commit less serious offenses.
The article above is reprinted with permission from the National Juvenile Justice Evaluation Center, an OJJDP-funded project of the Justice Research and Statistics Association (JRSA).
*Photo at top by Flickr user Free Press Pics
Updated: December 17 2012