Juvenile Recidivism: A Second Chance

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A big challenge facing the criminal justice system is juvenile recidivism, repeat criminal offenses by minors. While there are no national estimates, individual states keep statistics on juvenile offenses and how many are committing multiple crimes. In recent years, the arrest rate for minors has declined, in part because of measures put in place to help children stay in school and out of trouble.

What Causes Juvenile Recidivism?

According to research published in Clinical Psychology Review, risk factors associated with juvenile crime can include aggression, substance use, family background and emotional or behavioral problems, among others. If these factors are not addressed after an initial offense, it’s more likely an offender will recidivate.

Addressing risk factors before an offense or after the first offense is still a relatively new practice. In 1974, the U.S. Congress passed the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act, which set new standards for how cases featuring minors were adjudicated. Prior to this law being codified, judges were able to use great discretion over how juvenile cases were handled, leading to significant disparity in the treatment of offenders.

Over time, research showed that incarcerating children for crimes did not lead to a reduction in committing new offenses. Instead, many juveniles were left negatively impacted for the rest of their lives. A study from the National Bureau of Economic Research found that minors who spent time in juvenile prisons were more likely to not finish high school and commit another criminal offense. These negative outcomes have led many states and organizations to create preventative plans that provide troubled children with the help they need.

Programs to Reduce Juvenile Recidivism

It’s believed that intervention, as opposed to incarceration, can help young offenders rehabilitate. There is a growing movement to use programs with evidence-based practices that can help turn around a child’s life and reduce recidivism. These programs focus on healing between the victim and offender rather than punishing the offender through the criminal justice system.

A focus on intervention instead of punishment gets the intended results, according to research. A study published in the journal Youth Violence and Juvenile Justice discovered that juveniles were 38 percent less likely to commit another offense when placed in a restorative justice intervention program.

Overall, juvenile arrests have declined 72 percent since 1996, according to the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. As of 2017, there were an estimated 2,408 juvenile arrests per 100,000 people ages 10-17. While it’s difficult to say what exactly led to this decrease, it’s likely that a mix of better guidelines for juvenile courts and early intervention programs played a role.

Over the past few decades, individual states have implemented programs in local communities and schools that try to address risk factors. Below, we discuss some intervention programs developed across the country that have provided positive outcomes. The information on these programs comes from Crime Solutions, part of the National Institute of Justice.

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Adolescent Diversion Project (ADP)

The program, founded in 1976, seeks to partner juveniles who committed an offense with supportive role models. The role models are often student volunteers from a local college or university. Once paired, the adolescent and volunteer spend around six to eight hours per week with the goal of providing young offenders with positive role models, strengthening family bonds and increasing access to community resources. Over time, ADP has shown to be a successful diversionary program for reducing juvenile recidivism.

A study published in the Journal of Prevention and Intervention in the Community found that the ADP resulted in fewer cases of recidivism than a “warn and release” method, or standard processing through the juvenile court system. In addition, a separate study published in the same journal discovered almost $1.8 million in annual savings for the state on 144 juveniles. The high savings came from having adolescents placed in ADP, as opposed to being processed through the county juvenile court system.

Multisystemic Therapy (MST)

MST is for adolescents ages 12-17 who have committed criminal offenses related to drug use or violence. The program aims to address factors that contribute to negative behaviors while promoting positive social interactions. MST therapists work with both children and parents to empower them, create more family support systems and remove negative influences.

Since first put into practice in communities in the early 1990s, research of MST has shown it can be successful at reducing repeat offenses. In the Journal of Clinical Child and Adolescent Psychology, a study of the program implemented in multiple Midwestern states found that juvenile recidivism was significantly reduced compared to a control group.

Aggression Replacement Training (ART)

Designed for adolescents with a history of aggressive behavior, ART addresses the emotional and social factors that lead to negative behaviors. The program features a 10-week, 30-hour course that teaches juveniles techniques to help them control their anger and facilitates group discussions to help handle antisocial behavior.

A study by the Washington State Institute for Public Policy revealed that the recidivism rate for adolescents who participated in this program was 16 percent lower than that of a control group. As of 2018, the cost-benefit analysis of it found that Washington state saved more than $4 for every dollar spent on the program.

Brain Development and Recidivism

In a criminal justice context, it’s important in our society to not treat children like adults. It isn’t until young adulthood or even later that the brain’s frontal lobe, which controls decision-making functions, fully develops. This means that the actions of a non-adult don’t always suggest what their behaviors will be as an adult. According to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (AACAP), teenagers are more likely than adults to be impulsive, engage in risky or dangerous behavior and get into accidents.

Unlike most adults with fully developed frontal lobes, children may not always understand the consequences of their actions, so it’s probable that, if provided with the right intervention, juvenile offenders can be successfully rehabilitated and will not commit criminal acts in adulthood.

With a criminal justice degree, you can make an impact on a child’s life in an intervention program. Graduates with criminal justice degrees can work as juvenile justice resource supervisors, case managers in a department of child services or as juvenile program managers.

Point Park University’s online bachelor’s in criminal justice program provides working professionals like you with the flexibility you need to balance your education with your busy life. Plus, with transfer credits, you can graduate in as little as two years.