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"Changing Lives" Report on Juvenile Justice Strategies DOJ 2014

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U.S. Department of Justice
Office of Justice Programs

Justice ReseaRch
National Institute of Justice
Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention


William J. Sabol • Acting Director, NIJ

Robert L. Listenbee • Administrator, OJJDP



ecades of study have revealed much about risk factors for

This bulletin focuses on the highest quality evaluation

delinquency and crime. Individual characteristics and various

studies and research reviews. Grouped by program

factors can increase the probability of offending and may also

focus — family, school, peers and community,

predict substance abuse, teenage pregnancy, dropping out of school and other

individual, employment — the bulletin assesses early

problems during adolescence and early adulthood. Because risk factors can

childhood, juvenile, and early adulthood programs

predict future criminal behavior, prevention and intervention programs focus

that have demonstrated measurable impacts on

on mitigating them in a young person’s life. In addition, longitudinal studies

offending in early adulthood or up to age 29.

have identified protective factors that inhibit criminal behavior. Programs that
strengthen these protective factors can reduce the risk of delinquency. Most
prevention and intervention programs that address risk factors have not been

Family-Based Programs

adequately evaluated, but high-quality studies are emerging. Randomized

Family-based programs target risk factors such

controlled trials and other rigorous studies have shown that many of these

as poor child rearing. Psychologists deliver some

programs have positive effects on offending in addition to other outcomes.

programs; public health professionals deliver others.
This section discusses programs for young children

This publication summarizes Bulletin 6: Changing Lives: Prevention and
Intervention to Reduce Serious Offending by Brandon C. Welsh, Mark W.
Lipsey, Frederick P. Rivara, J. David Hawkins, Steve Aos, Meghan E. Peel and
David Petechuk, NCJ 242936, available at Bulletin 6 is one in a
series of bulletins prepared for Transitions From Juvenile to Adult: Papers From

the Study Group on Transitions From Juvenile Delinquency to Adult Crime.

The study group was led by David Farrington and Rolf Loeber under award
number 2008-IJ-CX-K402; to learn more, visit, keyword “Transitions
to Adulthood.” This summary was written by Phil Bulman, a staff writer at NIJ.
See full bulletin for source citations.

and for adjudicated delinquents.

Young Children
Only a few programs that focus on early childhood
have demonstrated that they have an impact on
reducing offending in early adulthood. One was
a parent training program that yielded positive
results for young children but showed no impact for
participants when they were between ages 16 and 21.

The best-known home visiting program, and the

early adulthood (the experimental groups received

only one with a direct measure of delinquency, is

multisystemic therapy).

the Nurse-Family Partnership initially carried out in
Elmira, N.Y. Four hundred first-time mothers were
randomly assigned to receive home visits from nurses
during pregnancy or during the child’s first two years
or to a control group that received no visits. Nurses
visited mothers in the experimental groups every two
weeks, advising them on prenatal and postnatal care,
infant development, the importance of nutrition, and
avoiding smoking and drinking during pregnancy.
Results showed that postnatal visits — particularly to
poor, unmarried teenage mothers — were associated
with a significant decrease in reported abuse and
neglect during the child’s first two years. In a 15-year
follow-up, significantly fewer experimental group
mothers were identified as committing child abuse
and neglect. By age 15, children of the higher risk
mothers in the experimental group had significantly
fewer arrests than controls. By age 19, girls in the
experimental group had significantly fewer arrests,
and girls of the higher risk mothers had significantly
fewer children of their own and less Medicaid use.
However, few effects were observed for boys.

•	 Substance-abusing offenders: 118 substanceabusing juvenile offenders received either
multisystemic therapy or the usual community
services. The mean age at treatment was 15.7 and
at follow-up was 19.6. The experimental group had
significantly lower yearly conviction rates than did
the controls for violent crimes but not for property
crimes. Effects on long-term drug use were mixed,
with higher rates of marijuana abstinence for the
experimental group but no effect on cocaine use.
•	 Violent offenders: 176 serious and violent juvenile
offenders received either multisystemic therapy or
individual therapy. The mean age at treatment was
13.7 and at follow-up was 28.8. The experimental
group had significantly lower recidivism rates than
did the controls (50 percent versus 81 percent),
including lower rates of rearrest for violent offenses
(14 percent versus 30 percent). Experimental
participants also had 54 percent fewer arrests and
57 percent fewer days of confinement in adult
detention facilities.
•	 Sex offenders: 48 high-risk juvenile sex offenders

See the founder of the Nurse-Family Partnership,
David Olds, Ph.D., discuss the program during
a Research for the Real World seminar at, keyword “nurse-family olds interview.”

received either multisystemic therapy or the usual
community services. The mean age at treatment
was 14 and at follow-up was 22.9. The experimental
group reported lower recidivism rates than did the
controls for sexual (8 percent versus 46 percent)
and nonsexual (29 percent versus 58 percent)
crimes. Experimental participants also had 70
percent fewer arrests for all crimes and spent 80
percent fewer days in detention facilities.

Functional Family Therapy

Adjudicated Delinquents
Multisystemic Therapy
This therapy, designed for serious juvenile offenders,
may include individual, family, peer, school and
community interventions, including parent training
and other skill-building sessions. It is often referred
to as family-based treatment. Three evaluations
of randomized experiments have measured the
impact of multisystemic therapy on offending in



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This approach modifies patterns of family interaction
through modeling and reinforcement to encourage
clear communication and minimize conflict. A
long-term follow-up of a randomized experiment
involving 54 juvenile offenders compared family
therapy with probation services. The mean age at
treatment was 15.4 for the experimental group and
15.3 for the control group. Most were between ages
20 and 22 at follow-up. Family therapy participants
reported a lower rate of rearrest compared with their
control counterparts.

Multidimensional Treatment Foster Care
This approach includes both individual therapeutic
care for adolescents in foster care and training in
parent management skills. A short-term follow-up
of a randomized experiment involving 81 serious
and chronic female juvenile offenders compared
multidimensional treatment with group care. The age
at treatment was between 13 and 17 and at follow-up
was between 15 and 19. Multidimensional care was
more effective than group care as measured by days
in locked settings, number of criminal referrals and
self-reported delinquency.

reported significantly less violence, less alcohol
abuse and fewer sexual partners than the group
that participated in grades five and six only or the
control group. In the latest follow-up, the group
that participated in grades one through six reported
significantly better educational and economic
attainment and mental and sexual health by age 27,
but no effects were found for substance abuse or
criminal activity at ages 24 or 27.

Montreal Longitudinal-Experimental Study
This study combined skills training, parent training

A two-year follow-up of a randomized experiment

and teacher support. About 250 disruptive 6-year-

involving 79 adolescent males compared

olds from low socioeconomic neighborhoods were

multidimensional treatment to group home care.

assigned randomly to two groups, experimental and

The age at treatment was between 12 and 17 and at

control. The experimental group learned how to

follow-up was between 16 and 19. Multidimensional

improve social skills and self-control. Coaching, peer

treatment was significantly more effective than

modeling, role playing and reinforcement strategies

group home care as measured by referrals for violent

were used in small group sessions at school. Parents

offending and self-reports of violent behavior. Only

were trained in parent management, family crisis

5 percent of participants in the multidimensional

management and techniques for nonpunitive and

program had two or more criminal referrals for

consistent discipline.

violent offenses compared with 24 percent of the
group home adolescents.

School-Based Prevention Programs
Only three school-based prevention programs have
demonstrated that they have an impact on reducing
offending in early adulthood: the Seattle Social
Development Project, the Montreal LongitudinalExperimental Study and the Good Behavior Game.

Seattle Social Development Project
This project combines parent training, teacher
training and skills training for children. About 500
first-graders were randomly assigned to experimental
or control classes in the original study. Parents
and teachers in the experimental classes received
child management instruction designed to increase

By age 12, three years after the end of treatment,
the boys in the experimental group committed
significantly less burglary and theft and were
significantly less likely to get drunk or get into
fights than the boys in the control group. The
experimental boys also had significantly higher
school achievement. At every age from 10 to 15,
the experimental boys had significantly lower
self-reported delinquency scores than the control
boys. The differences in delinquency between the
two groups increased as the follow-up progressed.
However, the experimental boys were only slightly
less likely to have a juvenile court record up to
age 15 (7 percent compared with 9 percent). The
experimental boys were also less likely to be gang
members or to get drunk or take drugs but were
not significantly less likely than the controls to have
intercourse by age 15.

children’s attachment to parents and their bonding

The latest follow-up was a criminal record check at

to school. They also learned how to teach children

age 24. Those in the experimental group were less

positive ways to solve problems.

likely to have a record than their control counterparts

A follow-up at age 18 found that the group that

(22 percent compared with 33 percent).

participated in the full program through grade six

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Good Behavior Game

Mentoring Programs

The Good Behavior Game encourages children

Community-based prevention covers a wide array of

to learn how to regulate their own and their

programs such as after-school programs, mentoring,

classmates’ behavior. In an experimental study in

youth groups and resident groups. Although evidence

19 urban elementary schools in Baltimore, first-

is insufficient to support claims that after-school

grade students were randomly assigned to groups

programs are effective, mentoring programs have

that had equal numbers of disruptive children. The

been shown to produce a significant 10-percent

two-year program began with tangible rewards, such

reduction in offending on average. Mentoring is more

as stickers, for entire groups that exhibited good

effective when the average duration of each contact

behavior. Eventually, they moved to less tangible

between mentor and mentee is greater and when

rewards such as longer recess times.

mentoring is combined with other interventions.

After one year, teachers and peers rated the
experimental students as less aggressive and shy than
control students. The most positive effects were for
students rated most aggressive at baseline. Among
boys with the highest baseline aggression ratings, the
positive effects endured through sixth grade.
Between ages 19 and 21, male participants in the
highest risk group engaged in significantly less violent
and criminal behavior than their control counterparts
(34 percent compared with 50 percent). They also had

Communities That Care and other comprehensive
community initiatives work to bring together key
people to target a range of risk factors. Findings
from a randomized controlled trial involving 4,400
students in 24 American communities found that
the program significantly reduced the initiation of

Peer- and Community-Focused

no follow-ups into early adulthood.

Peer-focused programs to prevent offending

These programs target individual-level risk factors

friends. There are no outstanding examples of
effective intervention programs for delinquency and
later offending based on peer risk factors.

Children at Risk
The most important prevention program whose
success seems to be based mainly on reducing peer
risk factors is the Children at Risk program, which

use between grades five and eight. However, there are

Individual-Level Programs
for offending in early childhood, adolescence and
early adulthood. They may focus on intellectual
stimulation for preschool children, social skills
training that targets traits such as impulsivity and
low empathy in childhood, or treatment of substance
abuse and improving mental health in young adults.
Several preschool programs have demonstrated that
they have an impact on reducing offending in early

targeted high-risk adolescents with an average age of

Perry Preschool Project

12 who lived in poor neighborhoods of five American

The Perry Preschool project included 123 children in

cities. Participants were identified in schools and
randomly assigned to experimental or control groups.
Initial reports were disappointing, but a one-year
follow-up showed that, according to self-reports,
experimental participants were less likely to have
committed violent crimes or sold drugs.

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Communities That Care

delinquent behavior and both alcohol and cigarette

friends and increasing the influence of healthier


early adult years.

significantly lower rates of drug dependence.

concentrate on reducing the influence of delinquent


However, no studies have included follow-ups in the

Ypsilanti, Mich., who were divided into experimental
and control groups. Children in the experimental
group attended a daily preschool program, backed up
by weekly home visits, when they were ages 3 and 4.
The goal was to provide intellectual stimulation that

would increase their thinking and reasoning abilities

compared with 21 percent) and lower rates of

and lead to later school achievement.

incarceration (21 percent compared with 26 percent).

The program had long-term benefits. At age 19,
subjects in the experimental group were more likely
to be employed, to have graduated from high school
and to have received college or vocational training
and were less likely to be arrested. By age 27, the
experimental group had only half as many arrests
as the controls, an average of 2.3 compared with
4.6. They were more likely to have graduated from
high school, had significantly higher earnings and
were more likely to be homeowners. Among female
participants in the experimental group, more were
married, and fewer of their children were born out of
The most recent follow-up, which included 91 percent
of the original sample at age 40, found important
differences between the experimental and control
groups. Participants in the experimental group had
significantly fewer lifetime arrests for violent crimes
(32 percent compared with 48 percent), property
crimes (36 percent compared with 58 percent) and
drug crimes (14 percent compared with 34 percent)

Carolina Abecedarian Project
The Carolina Abecedarian Project targeted 111 lowincome children, 98 percent of whom were African
American, deemed to come from multirisk families.
The experimental group received full-time preschool
care in addition to social services; the control group
received only social services. At age 21, fewer of those
in the experimental group reported misdemeanor
or felony arrests or incarceration. Also, significantly
fewer were marijuana users or had become teenage
parents, and significantly more had attended college
or university.

Employment-Based Training
These programs for adolescents and young adults
focus on increasing employment rates among people
at risk of serious offending.

and were significantly less likely to have been
arrested five or more times (36 percent compared
with 55 percent). In addition, they had significantly
higher levels of schooling (77 percent graduated


from high school compared with 60 percent), better

Many studies support the importance of employment in fostering desistance from

employment records and higher incomes.

crime and substance abuse, but some studies have found full-time employment may
actually decrease the likelihood of desistance. Some researchers have wondered if

Child-Parent Center Program

employment for those who have strong criminal propensities may actually provide
more opportunities to steal.

The Child-Parent Center program gave disadvantaged
children ages 3 and 4 an active learning preschool
program and family support. Educational enrichment
continued into elementary school up to age 9. The
program operated in 24 centers in impoverished
Chicago neighborhoods. An evaluation found
that, compared with the control group, those in
the program group were significantly less likely to
be arrested for any offense (17 percent compared
with 25 percent). They also had lower rates of
multiple offenses and violent offenses at age 18 and

Intensive Residential Training Programs
Job Corps is the only residential program that has
demonstrated desirable effects on offending in early
adulthood. It also has positive effects on subsequent

a significantly higher rate of high school completion

Job Corps improves the employability of at-risk

(50 percent compared with 39 percent). At age

young people (ages 16-24) by offering vocational

24, participants in the experimental group had

training, education and health care. It serves about

significantly lower rates of felony arrests (17 percent

60,000 people annually. A three-year follow-up of a

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randomized experiment that included 15,400 people

2.	Educational, vocational and employment

found that Job Corps produced statistically significant

programs show mixed results. Some find a modest

reductions in criminal activity, improved educational

10-percent decrease in offending, others find the

attainment and greater earnings. The arrest rate

mean effect to be about 20 percent, and still others

among participants was 29 percent compared with

have found no effect on reoffending rates.

33 percent for control counterparts. Tax data analysis
showed that earnings gains continued for the oldest
participants eight years after completing the program.

3.	Substance abuse treatment is commonly provided
to offenders, and treatment programs produce
a range of positive effects, from about 4- to

Ex-Offender Job Training for Older Males
These programs may be useful for those who are old
enough to be “aging out” of crime. Few evaluations
of programs that serve this population exist. Two

programs from the 1970s that reduced offending in
early adulthood were the Supported Work program
and the Baltimore Life Experiment. One analysis
found that the Supported Work program was highly
effective at reducing offending and improving
employment for ex-offenders older than age 26, but
not for younger participants.

Transition to Adulthood
Few studies have examined the impact of
interventions on criminal behavior outcomes
during the transition from late adolescence to early

20-percent reductions in reoffending rates.
4.	Treatment for sex offenders varies, and analyses
of effectiveness have all looked broadly at this
category of program rather than at specific
interventions. Reductions in general reoffending
rates (not limited to sex crimes) range from 24 to
36 percent.

Costs and Benefits
The financial benefits of programs often outweigh
their costs, as they both reduce offending in the
young adult years and save money in the long run.
According to research conducted by the Washington
State Institute for Public Policy (WSIPP), this was
true of multidimensional treatment foster care ($8
saved per $1 expended), functional family therapy
($10 saved per $1 expended), multisystemic therapy

adulthood. Most focus exclusively on juvenile or adult

($3 saved per $1 expended), vocational education

populations, but results are largely consistent. Four

in prison ($12 saved per $1 expended), cognitive-

interventions with ample studies show effectiveness:

behavioral therapy in prison ($22 saved per $1

1.	Cognitive behavioral therapy produces on
average a 22-percent reduction in offending rates.
Most studies focus on either juveniles or adults.

expended), drug treatment in prison ($6 saved per
$1 expended), and employment training in the
community ($12 saved per $1 expended).

There is no reason to expect that this approach

See table 1 for WSIPP’s 2009 analysis of the benefits

would be any less effective among offenders in the

and costs of selected well-researched programs

transitional age group.

intended to reduce criminal reoffending of juvenile
and young adult offenders. For WSIPP’s current costbenefit analyses, see



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TABLE 1: Estimates of the benefits and costs of selected evidence-based programs for juvenile and young adult offenders
Expected Effects

Benefits and Costs (2009 Dollars)

% Change,

# of Studies

Benefits per

Benefits to

Benefits to

Total Cost per

Total Benefits
÷ Costs

Total Benefits
– Costs

Juvenile Setting
Treatment Foster Care









Functional Family Therapy









Family Integrated









Adolescent Diversion









Multisystemic Therapy

































Vocational Education in









Intensive Supervision, with









Education in Prison, basic
or post-secondary









Cognitive Behavioral
Programs in Prison









Drug Treatment in









Drug Treatment in Prison









Drug Courts









Job Training/Assistance in









Intensive Supervision,
surveillance only









Aggression Replacement
Restorative Justice,
low-risk offenders
Coordination of Services

Adult Setting

Note: All monetary figures are life-cycle present values; the discount rate used was 3 percent. All figures estimated with WSIPP’s benefit-cost model. The benefits to taxpayers and
program costs are estimated for Washington state taxpayers. The benefits to crime victims are estimated with victim cost information representing the United States. All estimates
were calculated in April 2010.

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Program Effectiveness

Points of view or opinions expressed in this

NIJ’s uses proven research to

necessarily represent the official position or

determine what works in criminal justice, juvenile

policies of NIJ, OJJDP, or the U.S. Department

justice and crime victim services.

of Justice.

document are those of the author and do not

rates some of the programs discussed in this
summary as being effective or promising in reducing
serious crime rates among young people (see table 2).

The National Institute of Justice and the Office
of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention
are components of the Office of Justice

TABLE 2: Evidence ratings from

Evidence Rating

Multisystemic therapy

Programs, which also includes the Bureau
of Justice Assistance; the Bureau of Justice
Statistics; the Office for Victims of Crime;
and the Office of Sex Offender Sentencing,
Monitoring, Apprehending, Registering,
and Tracking (SMART).

Functional family therapy
Multidimensional treatment foster care
Nurse-Family Partnership
Good Behavior Game
Perry Preschool Project
Communities That Care
Montreal Longitudinal-Experimental Study
Child-Parent Center
Job Corps programs
Note: A rating with one icon denotes programs evaluated in one study or
meta-analysis. A rating with multiple icons denotes programs evaluated
across multiple studies.

NCJ 243993


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