Academic journal article Journal of Juvenile Justice

Reducing Juvenile Recidivism through Specialized Reentry Services: A Second Chance Act Project

Academic journal article Journal of Juvenile Justice

Reducing Juvenile Recidivism through Specialized Reentry Services: A Second Chance Act Project

Article excerpt

Introduction

Being able to successfully treat adolescent offenders continues to present a challenge to the juvenile justice system, especially the most serious offenders. To address this issue and to promote more successful transitions to society following incarceration, the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) prioritized development of comprehensive reentry programming more than thirty years ago. Since then, increased attention has been given to reentry services and their role in the long-term success of juvenile justice programming. As a result, basic reentry services have become standard protocol for many juvenile justice systems. However, the scope and intensity of these services have varied greatly between providers and between systems.

The aim of this study was to evaluate the impact of specialized reentry services. To accomplish this, a group of adolescents who received treatment as usual reentry services was matched with a group of adolescents who received specialized reentry services. Both groups were incarcerated in the same facility, and thus, both received the same cognitive behaviorally-based residential treatment. In addition to evaluating the effect of reentry services, differences between adolescents who initially committed a non-sexual offense were compared to those who initially committed a sexual offense.

Adolescent Offenders and the Need for Reentry Services

More than 1.3 million adolescents cycle through juvenile courts each year (Sickmund, Sladky, & Kang, 2013), and on any given day, an estimated 71,000 adolescents are incarcerated in the United States (Sickmund, Sladky, Kang, & Puzzanchera, 2011). This significant participation in the juvenile justice system has broad implications for adolescents' healthy development and long-term success (Willison et al., 2013); it poses a significant risk to adolescents and is a primary predictor of poor long-term outcomes (e.g., Mallett, 2013; Seigle, Walsh, & Weber, 2014). However, this relationship is not wholly clear, particularly when factoring in many adolescent offenders' serious comorbid needs, including mental health and substance abuse issues, histories of abuse and/ or neglect, and academic challenges (Herz et al., 2012; Hodgdon, 2008; Leone & Weinberg, 2010; Skowyra & Cocozza, 2006). Between 60-70% of justice system-involved youth have been diagnosed with a mental health disorder (Skowyra & Cocozza, 2006), approximately 60% have had co-occurring mental health and substance use disorders (Hodgdon, 2008), and as many as 65% have been involved in the child welfare system (Herz et al., 2012). Not unexpectedly, given their complex needs, justice-involved youth are significantly more likely to struggle academically, have learning disabilities, and drop out of school (Leone & Weinberg, 2010).

Due to offenders' complex needs, reentry planning and aftercare services have long been considered crucial to community engagement efforts (Bullis, Yovanoff, & Havel, 2004) to effectively treat adolescent offenders with mental health needs (Pullman et al., 2006) and to promote successful transitions (Spencer & Jones-Walker, 2004). More recently, researchers have sought to further understand the relationship between reentry planning and recidivism (James, Stams, Aascher, De Roo, van der Laan, 2013; Baglivio, Wolff, Jackowski, & Greenwald, 2015).

In addition to adolescent offenders' comorbid treatment needs, they also face several other specific challenges related to reentry. For some, these challenges involve returning to the same unstable home environment in the same community that lacks effective schools and/or employment opportunities. For others, particularly those convicted of sexual offenses, these challenges may be compounded by barriers to education, employment, and housing that have resulted from sex offender legislation (Meloy, Miller, & Curtis, 2008; Zevitz & Farkas, 2000; Zimring, Jennings, & Piquero, 2007). …

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