Blog: Research Updates

Juvenile Drug Treatment Court Guidelines

As many of you know, in 2016 the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) released the Juvenile Drug Treatment Court Guidelines (JDTC). The purpose for developing the Guidelines was to organize the most effective JDTC implementation components based on the best available research. Building on the 2003 Juvenile Drug Courts: Strategies in Practice (JDC: SIP), this systematic and thorough review developed seven objectives, each with corresponding guidelines statements, and supporting information.

New Report on the Well Being of Children Shows Progress, Room For Improvement

A report recently released from the Federal Interagency Forum on Child and Family Statistics found that while several indicators of children’s well being have improved in recent years, there are significant areas that still need to be addressed. One of the most significant issues is the increasing numbers of children living in poverty. The study, “America’s Children in Brief: Key National Indicators of Well-Being,” examined a range of indicators including family and social environment, economic circumstance, physical environment and safety.

Safety showed some of the best improvement. Via the report, “In 2010, the rate at which youth were victims of serious violent crimes was 7 crimes per 1,000 juveniles ages 12–17, down from 11 per 1,000 in 2009.” This drop was primarily seen in the violent victimization crime rates of young males, but unfortunately the rate for female youths did not see any significant change.

New CASA Columbia Study Reports Inadequate Treatment for Addiction

The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University (CASA Columbia) released a new five-year national study on addiction treatment, finding that despite overwhelming evidence that addiction is a disease, treatment options don’t follow the same methodologies that we currently use to treat other diseases like cancer, diabetes and heart conditions. Treatments for each of these diseases of course differ, but doctors still use the same process of evidence-based diagnosis followed by appropriate treatment.
Although addiction to nicotine, alcohol and other substances affects over 40 million Americans--more than cancer, diabetes and heart conditions--most medical professionals aren’t qualified to treat addiction. The study found youth who begin smoking, drinking, or using other drugs before the age of 21 are at higher risk for addiction. In 96.5 percent of cases, addiction originated with substance use before the age of 21 when the brain is still developing. Via the press release:

“The report finds that while doctors routinely screen for a broad range of health problems like high blood pressure or high cholesterol, they rarely screen for risky substance use or signs of addiction and instead treat a long list of health problems that result, including accidents, unintended pregnancies, heart disease, cancers and many other costly conditions without examining the root cause.”

Generic anti-bullying classes found to be ineffective and more -- news roundup

Juvenile Justice Reform

  • California counties to pay the state $125,000 to house juvenile offenders
    California Governor Jerry Brown announced that the state has to pull the trigger on a series of mid-year budget cuts due to low tax revenues. One of those reductions shaves $67 million from the state’s juvenile justice budget. The cut will force counties to foot the bill for Juvenile Justice wards in state custody, at a cost of $125,000 per youth. Alameda County could be put in a $6.2 million bind.
  • Kentucky looks for better way to help young offenders
    Kentucky officials are looking for better ways to deal with youth who commit noncriminal offenses such as skipping school or running away. Research shows that detaining status offenders is the least effective and most expensive option. State leaders admit the system needs improvement.
  • Oregon will stop holding juvenile offenders in adult prison
    After federal auditors questioned the practice, Oregon has stopped temporarily holding youth in adult prisons. The Partnership for Safety and Justice, which works on criminal justice issues, won legislation in the 2011 session to encourage local authorities to hold youth in juvenile facilities while they await trial.
  • New Report: Generic anti-bullying classes found to be ineffective
    OJJDP has issued a report in which bullying in schools is examined and recommendations are made for the best ways schools can provide support to bullying victims. The study found generic curriculum is an ineffective substitute for student-focused engagement strategies.
  • Ohio Courts use internet for greater connectivity
    Ohio’s Coshocton County’s Common Pleas Court, Juvenile and Probate Court and Municipal Court are using the internet to share information more easily with the public and other courts. The Common Pleas Court launched a searchable database for the public that features basic information on open and closed cases with the court.
  • South Carolina law enforcement officers complete DJJ gang, violence prevention training
    Recognizing that many kids face significant pressure to join a gang, the South Carolina Department of Juvenile Justice has partnered with the Gang Resistance Education and Training program in multiple communities across the state to bring the curriculum to local elementary and middle school youth.

Adolescent Substance Abuse Treatment

Sheriff investigator makes a difference in kids’ lives and more -- news roundup

Juvenile Justice Reform

  • South Carolina County Sheriff investigator makes a difference in kids’ lives
    Richland County sheriff investigator Cassie Radford is working hard to get troubled kids the services they need and to keep them out of jail. The grant that funds Radford's position is in its third year and ends Sept. 30. Richland County prosecutors and judges hope Sheriff Leon Lott finds a way to keep Radford in her position.
  • Missouri juvenile office to use electronic monitoring
    The expense of sending Linn County’s juvenile offenders elsewhere, coupled with the strict criteria that must be met to detain a juvenile, has prompted the Linn County Juvenile Office to obtain electronic monitoring equipment. Without a juvenile detention center of its own, the Linn County Juvenile Office has been forced to pay the expense of transporting offenders as well as the cost for a bed in Kirksville’s Bruce Normile Juvenile Justice Center.
  • New goal for Illinois juvenile center: Clear it out
    Cook County’s Board President is advocating a new approach for the county’s juvenile justice system: empty the juvenile detention facility by putting children in group homes, monitored home confinement and other community-based programs where advocates say young people have better opportunities for counseling, job training and other life-skill instruction.
  • Kentucky launches pilot program to decrease juvenile detentions
    Henderson schools, law enforcement and court officials joined forces with the state to examine why so many teens were being incarcerated. They came up with a pilot program to combat the issue. It includes asking schools to deal with small offenses, instituting a mentor program and encouraging teachers and school officials to meet to review statistics on disciplinary action.
  • Washington, DC’s juvenile justice system sees real change
    As part of sweeping reforms, DC’s Oak Hill was closed in 2009 and replaced by a smaller and dramatically different facility named New Beginnings Youth Development Center. Youth Radio interviewed DC Lawyers for Youth executive director Daniel Okonkwo about Oak Hill’s impact on DC’s juvenile justice system.
  • Wisconsin critics: Stop treating 17-year-olds as adults
    Wisconsin is one of 13 states that automatically place 17-year-olds in the adult criminal justice system. In the past few years, almost one-third of states have passed laws to keep more young offenders in the juvenile justice system. Now officials and families are calling on the state to place 17-year-olds in juvenile facilities, mainly for their own safety.
  • Benton County’s juvenile center nearly finished
    Arkansas’ Benton County's Juvenile Justice Center is nearly complete, with part of the $6 million complex scheduled to open in January. The new facility is twice as large as the current one and will include classrooms and a courtroom in addition to holding cells.

Adolescent Substance Abuse Treatment

New National Poll: Strong Support for Youth Rehabilitation Over Incarceration and More -- News Roundup

  • New National Poll: Strong Support for Youth Rehabilitation Over Incarceration
    Poll highlights critical and timely information on youth in the justice system, showing overwhelming public support for treatment and rehabilitation of youth over incarceration and automatic prosecution in adult criminal court. This survey, a sample of 1,000 American adults, was commissioned by the Campaign for Youth Justice.
  • Sustainability: Impact Beyond Grant Programs
    These slides and guides from Pennsylvania State University are very helpful for juvenile justice programs and prevention work. (Hat tip to Paul Savery)
  • Feds Tell California Marijuana Dispensaries to Shut Down
    U.S. attorneys say they will prosecute landlords who rent space to operators of medical marijuana dispensaries. The attorneys said they suspect these dispensaries of using the state’s medical marijuana law to profit from large-scale drug sales.

Serious Juvenile Offenders: Do Mental Health Problems Elevate Risk?

juvenile-justice-system_fence-at-nightNOTE: Two of the co-authors of this post, Carol A. Schubert M.P.H., and Edward P. Mulvey, Ph.D., will be presenting on other aspects of their research on youth in the juvenile justice system at the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) juvenile justice conference next week.

The general adolescent population is estimated to have a rate of 9% to 21% in occurrence of diagnosable psychiatric disorders. In comparison, researchers have established that the juvenile offender population has a disproportionately high rate of mental health problems, with estimates suggesting it is as high as 50% to 70%. Additionally, a majority of the diagnosable youth in the juvenile system have a co-occurring substance-use disorder.
Many initiatives dealing with mental health problems in juvenile offenders have treated them as a criminogenic risk factor; positing that, if these problems are addressed, youth’s risk for repeat offenses will decrease and their involvement in pro-social activity will increase. It is important that mental health problems be addressed for these youth,  but we require a better understanding of the role mental health problems play for offending to better inform program development.
Demonstrations that youth with mental health problems have an increased risk for criminal involvement proves an association, but not a definite cause or explanation about the means by which mental disorders elevate criminal risk. It is possible that there is a deeper root cause in the relationship between the two and that having a better understanding of this association can help determine the most effective treatment options.
There is not much data regarding whether and/or how mental health problems relate to continued offending or adjustment problems in adolescent offenders. The purpose of this study is to investigate the relationship among certain mental health problems (affective, anxiety, ADHD, and substance use disorders), criminogenic risk, and outcomes (such as re-arrest) in a sample of serious adolescent offenders.
This investigation used data from a longitudinal study of serious adolescent offenders (The Pathways to Desistance Study). The sample of serious adolescent offenders included 949 individuals (84% male; 78% minority) with a mean age sixteen. 57.7% of the sample met the criteria for at least one of the assessed MPHs. The study investigated three questions:

Youth Violence Can Be Reduced By Increasing Alcohol Controls, Studies Suggest

juvenile-justice-system_liquor-store-signMake access to alcohol more difficult and young adults are likely to commit fewer violent crimes. That’s what two studies by University of California at Riverside researchers showed recently, according to an article published by CBS Los Angeles.
The first study, which examined 91 of the largest American cities in 36 states, found a link between alcohol store density and violent crime among teens and young adults aged 13-24.
In the second study, researchers found higher rates of violent crimes in neighborhoods near alcohol outlets with more than 10 percent of freezer space for single-serve containers. The researchers described the effect as “modest,” yet crime did increase in areas with a higher percentage of single serve alcohol containers.

Teen Brain Development: Neural Gawkiness

adolescent-brain-development_young-woman-with-door-in-her-head-showing-smaller-young-womanThe young are heated by Nature as drunken men by wine.   -- Artistotle
Adults' enduring perplexity about teenagers are captured in quotes by Aristotle and Shakespeare in The New Science of the Teenage Brain, the cover story of the October National Geographic Magazine. The article, by David Dobbs, explains how young people's lives are shaped by the mind-blowing reorganization occurring in the brains of adolescents between the ages of 12-25. The article is fascinating, and it's worth reading the entire piece. It's also a fabulous tool for us to use to get policymakers' attention as to why so many policies and programs like Scared Straight, lock them up, and zero tolerance don't work. So after reading the article, spend a few minutes sending an email or two or a letter to the editor of your local paper.

According to Dobbs, scientists started to look at what was happening in young people's brains in the 1990's. He explains what the scans showed:

Computer-Based Treatment Outperforms Treatment As Usual - And More: A Roundup

  • adolescent-substance-abuse-treatment_old-TVTaking the "Anonymous" out of A.A.
    Increasingly, adults in Alcoholics Anonymous are coming out of the closet and talking about their addiction and their membership in A.A. Is this a healthy sign that the stigma around addiction is decreasing, or does it threaten something that's critical to recovery -- and does all this look different when it comes to teens? Leave a comment below.
  • Computer-Based Interventions for Drug-Use Disorders: a Systematic Review According to a research survey published in the April 2011 issue of the Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment, "Compared to treatment-as-usual, computer-based interventions led to less substance use and higher motivation to change, better retention, and greater knowledge of presented information. Computer-based interventions for drug use disorders have the potential to dramatically expand and alter the landscape of treatment." (Hat tip to Paul Savery.)

Delinquent Youths' Attitudes Toward Crime - Surprising Findings

positive-youth-development_drifting-between-worlds-coverDo delinquent teens see criminal activity as something positive? 
Many adults assume that they do. However, research by Rachel Swaner and Elise White, published in 2010 by the Center for Court Innovation, suggests that for some youth at least, their attitudes and values are not anti-social at all. Though the youth outcomes in their study were not terribly positive, it underscores the need to provide youth with opportunities to do positive activities that reinforce their positive values. 
The study, titled, "Drifting Between Worlds: Delinquency and Positive Engagement among Red Hook Youth,"  involved a small sample of 44 youth in a housing project in Red Hook, Brooklyn. About half participated in Youth ECHO, a positive youth development program that enlisted the youth themselves in choosing community problems to tackle, and creating guerrilla marketing campaigns to address them. 
A few highlights from the study:

Deterrence: How Do Serious Juvenile Offenders Perceive the Rewards and Risks of Crime?

juvenile-justice-system_prison-bars-Jerome-ArizonaOne of the reasons that we, as a society, lock up adolescents who commit serious crimes is that we believe it will deter them from committing future crimes. Deterrence is a foundational element in the rationale for, and mission of, the justice system.
Yet we don’t fully understand how deterrence operates for certain types of offenders. In particular, we know very little about how the experience of punishment affects the perceptions of adolescent offenders. Here, we summarize recent research that seeks to shed some light on this issue.
There is a vast body of classic criminological literature regarding theories of deterrence (Beccaria, 1764; Zimring and Hawkins, 1973; Andenaes, 1974). Briefly, deterrence is rooted in the belief that when criminal sanctions are perceived to be certain, severe and swift, criminal activity will be reduced because the risk and costs of sanctions will be too high.
While deterrence works for society as a whole (general deterrence), we are concerned here with how it works for individuals (specific deterrence), which focuses on preventing individuals from engaging in future crime by making clear the connection between their own criminal activity and negative consequences; the idea being that the individual will refrain from future crime simply because it isn’t worth the risk or the rewards involved.

Is Medicaid Irrelevant? - Weekly Roundup

  • juvenile-justice-reform_state-trends-coverLegislative Victories Removing Youth from Adult Criminal Justice System
    The Campaign for Youth Justice released a report on the growing number of states changing their policies to keep more kids out of adult lockup.
  • Hardin County, OH Embraces Reclaiming Futures
    Reclaiming Futures Hardin County got great coverage in the March 26, 2011 issue of the Kenton Times. Random quotes: Scott Mitchell, treatment court graduate, said, “I did a complete 180." Judge James Rapp: "If we are there for [the kids], they will be successful.” Follow the link to learn more.
  • Do it YO Way - Mentors Guide Youth in Bristol County, MA
    After receiving training in anti-oppressive practices (follow link and scroll to find webinars, PowerPoints, and other resources), the Reclaiming Futures Bristol County team "developed 'YO', a pilot program which exposed seven young men from diverse ethnic backgrounds to the practices of oppressiveness and privilege."

    In an intense, 12-week program, they worked with adult mentors on "how to be successful in the face of the challenges they face in their daily lives."

    As Deirdre Lopes, director of the H.O.P.E. (Healthy Opportunities for Peaceful Engagement) Collaborative said, "We can tell them whatever we want, but there's no substitute for showing them. That's what really has an impact."

    Click the headline to see the April 5, 2011 story from South Coast Today.

What Works with Serious Juvenile Offenders - Pathways to Desistance Study

juvenile-justice-system_pathways-to-desistance-fact-sheet-OJJDPjuvenile-justice-system_MacArthur-brief-Pathways-to-DesistanceDoes the juvenile justice system really work? 
Reading comments from readers on news stories about youth in trouble, you'd think the juvenile justice system was designed to mollycoddle dangerous kids, turning them into super-predators.
Nothing could be further from the truth. 
Among other reasons, we know this because of "Pathways to Desistance," a research study led by Edward P. Mulvey, Director of the Law and Psychiatry Program at Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine. (Dr. Mulvey and Carol Schubert contributed a post to us on their findings in April 2010.)
The "Pathways to Desistance" research study is a unique study of what works in the juvenile justice system. This large, multi-site research project followed 1,354 serious juvenile offenders for seven years. An informative brief on the study findings was released in 2009 by the MacArthur Foundation; now, the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) has released another fact sheet, titled, "Highlights From Pathways to Desistance: A Longitudinal Study of Serious Adolescent Offenders."
Here's what the study found:

How Juvenile Probation Officers Identify Youth Mental Health Needs

juvenile-justice-system_broken-pencil-crumpled-paperA few weeks ago, my colleague, Jeff Butts, discussed here the implications of our recent study of rates of psychiatric disorder in almost 10,000 young persons at various levels of penetration of the justice system. (Here's the original study: "Psychiatric Disorder, Comorbidity, and Suicidal Behavior in Juvenile Justice Youth.")
He drew attention to our finding that, when evaluated in a standard way, approximately 35% of young persons at system entry (i.e., entering the juvenile justice system via probation or family court processing) met criteria for a mental health or substance use disorder.

In that work, we relied on a well-validated, computerized, instrument which aggregates a youth’s answers to specific questions about symptoms to generate a set of provisional psychiatric disorders (the DISC-IV). But what happens about identifying mental health problems in settings where such research activities are not in place?

Assessing Program Outcomes Can be Tricky

I often work with juvenile justice programs and their staff, advising them on research and evaluation issues. I recently learned that people need to be reminded that using pre-/post-outcome comparisons to judge the effectiveness of a program can be misleading.
In a recent meeting I attended, a program director was defending the effectiveness of his agency's intervention approach. He described what he believed were solid measures of impact by first describing the rate of offending among his program's clients prior to intake (in terms of average arrests per year). 
Then, he told us how that number was cut in half during the first year after a youth completed the program. According to him, this meant that the program had been proven effective.
For emphasis, he added, “With such good before-and-after data, we don't need any more evidence to know that we’re effective.”
Eeek, I thought to myself. 
He clearly didn't realize that his assertion of effectiveness was risky and possibly flawed.
Many people believe that agencies can assess their effectiveness entirely with pre/post comparisons of youth outcomes, such as recidivism or drug use before and after treatment.
Apparently, they do not know about the statistical bias present in that sort of comparison.

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. 

Roundup: Decriminalizing Teen Prostitution

  • juvenile-justice-system_old-TV-newsShould Teen Girls Be Arrested for Prostitution? The median age for girls entering prostitution in the United States is 12 to 14; they often come from histories of abuse and are frequently coerced into prostituting themselves. Several states have moved to decriminalize the offense.  What do you think?  Leave a comment. (Hat tip to the Campaign for Youth Justice.)
  • New York Times: Close More Juvenile Prisons. After reforms have left 10 of New York state's 25 juvenile prisons half-empty, the Times called for Governor-elect Andrew Cuomo to shut more down for being wasteful and ineffective.

Roundup: New Federal Institute of Addictions Closer to Reality

adolescent-substance-abuse-treatment_news-signAdolescent Substance Abuse Treatment and Research News and Resources

Adolescents, Young Adults and Recovery Support Groups: Science-Grounded Principles for Juvenile Probation Officers

adolescent-substance-abuse-treatment_El-Alma-del-Ebro-statue[The following is reposted with permission of the author from his website, Selected Papers of William L. White. -Ed.]

Every one seems to have an opinion about the need for or appropriateness of adolescent involvement in recovery support groups. One doesn’t have to go far to hear that such groups are inappropriate for adolescents or that adolescents do not do well in such groups. But what do we know about such involvement from the standpoint of science?
Listed below are the latest scientific findings related to such involvement. It should be noted that nearly all of these studies have evaluated adolescent involvement in 12-step groups and almost exclusively adolescents who have been treated in inpatient settings. There is scant scientific literature on the effects of adolescent involvement in secular or religious alternatives to 12-step groups. Here’s what is known about adolescents and 12-step involvement: