Academic journal article Journal of Juvenile Justice

Developing an Alternative Juvenile Programming Effort to Reduce Detention Overreliance

Academic journal article Journal of Juvenile Justice

Developing an Alternative Juvenile Programming Effort to Reduce Detention Overreliance

Article excerpt


Secure detention for juvenile delinquents has long been a systematic and cyclical method for states to manage unruly youth. Though its general distension in the "get tough" movement of the 1980s and 1990s has recently ebbed, detention still remains a serious issue, and it is often associated with an increased likelihood of later recidivism (Holman &Ziedenberg, 2006; Mendel, 2009). Combined with increased probation dispositions and higher frequencies of subsequent violations (Puzzanchera, Adams, & Sickmund, 2010; Steinberg, 2009), detention is a viable and common means of controlling violators. In the context of community supervision, detention is a tool that many probation officers find invaluable. The long-held belief that using detention serves as a deterrent effect or that it helps to structure and "set straight" the juvenile offender where probation failed thrives in such a context, making a philosophical shift to divert youth from detention difficult at best. Consequently, counties across the United States have reported that more than 50% of their juvenile detention population has been held due to probation violations (Mendel, 2009).

Increased pressures on the juvenile justice system, however, have forced officials and policymakers to re-examine the prevalent use of detention. New research on adolescent brain development, and the importance of using risk-needs-responsivity (RNR) to guide case management in juvenile programming, pushed many juvenile courts and probation departments to consider community-based alternatives (Andrews, Bonta, & Hoge, 1990; Barnoski, 2004; Howell, Lipsey, & Wilson, 2014). Focused on relieving the overreliance on detention as well as on implementing greater use of community-based sanctions, a national movement to reform juvenile detention has emerged. To support these efforts, numerous private foundations, including the Annie E. Casey Foundation and the MacArthur Foundation, became involved with assisting states in developing alternatives to detention,"right sizing"the system by removing the mandatory filing by age requirements, and addressing issues such as disproportionate minority contact (DMC; Maggard, 2013). Specifically addressing the use of detention for probation violators, the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention and private interests have initiated programs to keep technical violators from serving unnecessary time in detention.The assumption underlying such alternative detention programs is that additional programming or treatment will supply youth with needed skills that will help decrease recidivism more effectively than detention will.

A juvenile justice court system serving two southeastern counties in Washington state created one such alternative detention program for probation violators that included a 2 session course of accountability skill development. Called Fast Accountability Skills Training (FAST), the program was operated by trained juvenile probation staff and focused on having participants explore concepts around cognitive change and problem solving to reduce future recidivism and probation violations.This study is an evaluation of the FAST program and subsequent participant outcomes. Propensity score modeling of 434 probation violators from the juvenile court was utilized, in which those who received detention were matched to violators who received the FAST intervention.

After comparing the matched groups, we concluded that the program appeared to yield the same result as detention. In light of this finding, we conducted a second analysis in which we aimed to test if the program was in fact not different from detention. Upon conducting a test of equivalence and a propensity score weighting scheme, we confirmed that violators receiving the FAST program were indeed no better or worse than those in detention with regard to the supervision outcomes.

In spite of the program failure to reduce criminal recidivism and future probation violations, and considering the extant research on the impacts of incarceration for juveniles, a core question of detention alternative programming is raised: What is the usefulness of detention for juvenile probation violators? …

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