Female Juvenile Offenders with Heart: Preliminary Findings of an Intervention Model for Female Juvenile Offenders with Substance Use Problems

Article excerpt

This pilot study examined the effectiveness of an intensive, gender specific substance abuse treatment program, Holistic Enrichment for At-Risk Teens (HEART), on the psychosocial functioning of 30 incarcerated girls. A single-group multiple repeated measures design method was used to determine the effectiveness of the HEART program in reducing psychosocial problems associated with the behaviors of problem substance use and delinquency. The results showed that participants in the HEART program displayed significant improvement in eight of ten areas of psychosocial functioning: mental health, family relation, peer relations, educational status, vocational, leisure and recreational skills, and decreases in aggressive behaviors. The conclusion is that it is critical for juvenile correctional facilities to become sites where effective, empirically based treatment is provided.


The prevalence of substance use disorders is disproportionately high among incarcerated girls. Chesney-Lind (200 1 ) and Prescott ( 1 997) cite rates of substance use disorders ranging from 60% to 87% in samples of incarcerated girls. Substance use disorders among incarcerated girls often co-occur with other mental health disorders such as conduct disorders, depression, and anxiety (Goldstein, et al., 2003), and mental health disorders further complicate and aggravate the psychological suffering related to substance-related disorders (Dziegielewski, 2005a). Moreover, substance use has been found to be a robust predictor of recidivism among female juvenile offenders (Stoolmiller & Blechman, 2005). Given these findings, it is critical that juvenile correctional facilities become treatment sites that provide interventions designed to avert females from further involvement in substance abusing and delinquent behaviors. Targeted, effective interventions in institutional settings are needed to treat female juvenile offenders with multiple and varied problems (Jenson, Potter, & Howard, 2001).

Because the causal processes involved in the etiology, maintenance, and escalation of serious substance use and delinquency are multiple and complex, interventions developed to reduce these problems must be multifaceted and theory driven, and must target a broad range of empirically supported risk and protective factors (Catalano & Hawkins, 1996; Dembo & Williams, 1994; Dodge & Pettit, 2003). To be most effective, interventions must target multiple risk factors because multiple risk factors are likely to produce and maintain the co-occurring behaviors of serious substance use and delinquency (Dodge 8c Petit, 2003). Some of these risk factors include family conflict, family management problems, academic failure, low commitment and bonding to school, association with antisocial peers, and cognitive deficits (Catalano & Hawkins, 1996; Dodge & Petit, 2003; Lanctôt & LeBlanc, 2002). For girls, additional risk factors include trauma associated with physical or sexual victimization, poor or damaged self-image, social maladjustment, and anxiety (Hubbard & Pratt, 2002). Interventions that address only a narrow set of risk factors may be insufficient for addressing the scope of the problem (Sukhodolsky & Ruchkin, 2006), and single-component interventions (i.e., those focusing on one problem at a time) are likely to be unsuccessful, given the multiple forces that operate to produce antisocial behaviors (Dembo 8c Williams, 1994; Dodge & Pettit, 2003). Multi-component interventions appear promising (Rutter, Giller, & Hagell, 1998).

Few multi-component interventions targeting youths with serious substance use and delinquency problems - particularly adolescent females - exist (Molidor, Nissen, & Watkins, 2002). These interventions include multisystemic therapy, multidimensional foster care, juvenile drug court, and therapeutic communities. Most of these interventions are community-based. There is a critical need, however, for programming in correctional facilities that incorporate holistic interventions and treatment strategies that address multiple and interconnected factors that result in young women developing adaptive social skills, coping strategies, and prosocial behaviors needed to conform their futures away from crime, drugs, and associated anti-social behaviors. …