Measuring Success: The Washington State Juvenile Rehabilitation Model

Article excerpt

Lately, the public's perception of an increasingly violent juvenile offender population has been making its mark on juvenile justice legislation in Washington state, resulting in closer scrutiny of juvenile correctional systems and their decision-making processes. The Juvenile Rehabilitation Administration (JRA), a state agency charged agency with the custody and treatment of committed youths in the state, recently introduced a new rehabilitation model, partly in response to criticism that its old model was not doing enough to rehabilitate youthful offenders.

Prior to the development of the new model, JRA staff relied primarily on their clinical judgment to determine whether it was safe to place a youth in a community residential setting. Therefore, it was possible that youths committed for very serious and violent crimes were considered eligible for community bed placement within the same time frame as youths committed for less serious, nonviolent crimes. A primary concern of both the community and the Legislature centered on the release of offenders under JRA's control without an objective demonstration of rehabilitation or even of treatment progress. At the same time, the Legislature was demanding a formal description of JRA's treatment interventions, as well as documentation that rehabilitation approaches were effective.

In response to these concerns and demands, the authors developed a rehabilitation model for JRA in February 1996 that focused on the rehabilitative efforts of the offender. The model articulates specific behavioral criteria to be met by youths completing JRA treatment, including the acceptance of accountability and standards for service delivery, which would ensure that youths are able to meet these behavioral expectations.

Traditional Rehabilitation Models

Several states and local jurisdictions have developed assessment tools, classification systems or treatment models for juvenile offenders. However, traditional approaches to decision-making in juvenile justice have been highly subjective. Any system of classification, placement and assignment must be clear, consistently applied, and conceptually complete. In addition, periodic and routine reassessment of risk to community safety should be an integral component of managing juvenile offenders.

The challenge for any jurisdiction is to provide a comprehensive, connected system of rehabilitation. Paul Gendreau, professor of psychology at the University of New Brunswick, Canada, says programs based on deterrence and punishment alone don't produce results. According to Todd Clear, associate dean at the Florida State University School of Criminology, the most effective classification approaches are those that systematically link treatment and management issues, such as recidivism, security and custody in institutional settings. Researchers also cite the importance of targeting offenders' cognitive skills and behavioral patterns versus their emotions or experiences. This is consistent with Gendreau, who advocates the use of a "behavioral approach." He emphasizes the importance of reinforcement systems, cognitive change and the modeling of appropriate behavior.

Prior to development of the current rehabilitation model, Washington state's JRA had assessment tools and defined treatment programming in place. However, the specific relationships between assessment of risk, treatment progress, effectiveness of interventions and offender accountability had not been articulated or integrated. Consequently, JRA often had difficulty explaining its strategies, programs and policies in terms of a comprehensive, systematic approach to offender needs and issues.

Washington's Juvenile Rehabilitation Model

The mission of JRA is to teach offenders accountability; provide preventative and rehabilitative programming and public protection; and to reduce repetitive criminal behavior using the least restrictive setting necessary. …