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Juvenile Justice: Community Treatment - Post-adjudication

probation youths programs services

Probation. From its origins in Massachusetts in the mid-1800s, juvenile probation services have spread to virtually every jurisdiction in the nation. Whereas volunteers initially supervised youths, probation services have now become professionalized, staffed by graduates with bachelors degrees in the social sciences, social work, or criminal justice. Probation is most often operated at the county level, as part of a juvenile court or county executive agency. In some jurisdictions, however, such as Florida and Maryland, probation is administered by state juvenile correctional agencies.

Probation serves more youths than any other type of juvenile justice program. Howard Snyder and Melissa Sickmund summarize national statistics demonstrating how extensively the system relies on probation services. Using 1996 data, they estimate that more than half (54%) of all adjudicated delinquents are placed on probation along with an even higher percentage of adjudicated status offenders (60%). Given the numbers of delinquency and status offense cases referred to the nation's juvenile courts in 1996, this amounts to approximately 307,500 adjudicated delinquents cases and almost 50,000 adjudicated status offenders placed on probation. But probation serves almost as many additional youths who have not been formally adjudicated. Youths may be assigned to probation informally, either as an alternative to filing a formal court petition, or after an adjudication hearing even if not adjudicated. These other routes to probation resulted in an estimated 335,500 additional youths assigned to probation in 1996, bringing the total to nearly 693,000 (Snyder and Sickmund).

A youth on probation is assigned to a probation officer and usually has a set of conditions with which to comply. These conditions might specify such things as curfews, school attendance, periodic drug screening, hours of community service, making restitution to victims, or participating in various treatment programs. Failure to abide by these conditions results in a violation of probation, and a youth may be brought back to court and receive a more restrictive disposition. Violations of probation are misdemeanors, so that youths who are placed on probation as a result of a status offense and who subsequently violate the terms of that probation may then be charged with a delinquent offense, and thus be legally subject to such sanctions as detention or placement in training schools.

Probation officers are expected to enact two, sometimes contradictory, roles—service provider or broker and behavioral monitor. As the former, they attempt to develop supportive relationships with the youths as counselors and advocates. As the latter, they check on the youths' compliance with the conditions of probation, and are responsible for filing probation violations. As described in conjunction with home detention above, electronic monitoring may also be used, or other staff, called trackers, may be employed solely to check on probationers' whereabouts. In addition to supervising perhaps as many as fifty to one hundred youths on their caseloads, probation officers also may be responsible for conducting intake investigations and preparing predispositional reports used by the court in determining case dispositions. Thus, the amount of attention they can devote to any particular youth may be limited. Many probation departments have developed classification schemes to guide the amount of attention given to different youths, ranging from monthly office visits and paper processing to intensive probation (discussed later in this section).

The balanced approach to juvenile probation was introduced by Dennis Maloney, Dennis Romig, and Troy Armstrong. Beginning with a recognition of three goals of juvenile corrections, this approach requires that probation services incorporate a balance among:

  1. Protecting public safety by effectively monitoring the behavior of juvenile offenders;
  2. Holding offenders accountable for their offenses and to their victims; and
  3. Facilitating the youths' competency development via rehabilitative and skill building services.

The balanced approach has gained considerable popularity, with some states, such as California and Florida, even officially adopting it in their mission statements for juvenile probation (Bazemore).

Despite the challenges posed by heavy caseloads and popular impressions that the juvenile justice system is a "revolving door" through which the same youths return again and again, probation is remarkably effective. Snyder and Sickmund estimate that 54 percent of males and 73 percent of females who enter the juvenile justice system (and remember that probation is the most common service used) never return on a new referral.

Intensive probation. A study by the National Council on Crime and Delinquency (Krisberg, Rodriguez et al.) cataloged a number of intensive supervision programs, operated in about one-third of all jurisdictions. Intensive probation is used with youths who pose higher risks to public safety than do typical probationers. It typically involves small caseloads (e.g., ten to twenty), and frequent, perhaps daily, contact between the youths and the probation officer. Studies have shown that some jurisdictions have successfully used intensive probation as a less costly alternative disposition for relatively nonviolent youths who otherwise might be sent to institutions (Barton and Butts; Krisberg, Bakke et al; Krisberg, Rodriguez, et al.; Wiebush and Hamparian). Others, however, have suggested that intensive probation is not effective when used with relatively nonserious offenders who would otherwise receive regular probation supervision.

Restitution and community service. Restitution refers to compensation made directly to victims by offenders. Restitution may take the form of monetary payments, services rendered, or the repair or replacement of damaged or stolen property. Because of its emphasis on atonement, restitution is often an important part of restorative justice models (discussed later in this entry), but may be ordered as part of an informal adjustment or as a condition of probation.

Community service, like restitution, involves the offender giving something back, although to the community at large rather than directly to the victim. Many probation orders include a prescribed number of community service hours. The service activities can range from neighborhood clean-ups to volunteering in nursing homes or other agencies, providing maintenance chores for elderly residents, or lecturing to other young people on the dangers of delinquency or the realities of correctional experiences.

Both restitution and community service have the potential to promote offender accountability to the community or to victims. The best of these activities have desirable competency development benefits to the offenders by providing meaningful, pro-social community involvement and useful skill development. A review of research suggests that restitution can reduce recidivism to some extent (Lipsey; Schneider). But restitution and community service should not be judged solely in terms of recidivism reduction—their value may lie more in their restorative and accountability enhancing functions. As with any other aspect of the juvenile justice system's response to offenders, restitution and community service orders should be tailored to the individual youths and their circumstances, and should require amounts of time or compensation that are possible for the youths to provide.

Day treatment. Some adjudicated delinquents who remain living in the community may be ordered to attend day treatment programs. Those who cannot return to their regular schools may attend alternative school programs. Other programs operate in the after-school, evening, or weekend hours. Youths approaching employable age may receive job training services. Day treatment programs may include counseling services and recreation as well. They may have their own facilities or operate in a host facility, such as a Boys or Girls Club.

There are few specialized counseling models applied primarily to juvenile offenders. One of the best models is multisystemic therapy (MST), introduced by Scott Henggeler and Charles Borduin. MST recognizes the multiple factors presumed to cause delinquency, including the family, peers, and school, and interventions are designed to address each. Several studies, as summarized by Gail Wasserman and Laurie Miller, have shown that MST can be effective even for relatively serious delinquents. Since MST can be provided in the community, the cost is far less than institutional placement.

Community residential programs. Not all youths who are placed out of their own homes are sent to training schools or similar secure institutions. Some are assigned to group homes, therapeutic foster homes, and other community residential programs. These are usually small programs, with a handful of youths living with one or more adults who act as house parents. In most, the youths attend school or work, partake of other services, and participate in various activities in the community. Some, like the Teaching Family homes introduced by Boys Town ( Jones, Weinrott, and Howard, 1981), have well-developed treatment models. Others are less structured.

Community residential settings are intended to be less restrictive and more homelike than institutions. Some, however, may be relatively isolated from the community and resemble secure institutions in many respects. In one study, for example, Robert Coates, Alden Miller, and Lloyd Ohlin (1976) found that some group homes were indeed relatively open settings, with a family-like atmosphere and multiple community linkages, while others were more authoritarian, with few community linkages, and seemed more like institutions.

Independent living programs. While a goal of most juvenile correctional programs is the preservation or eventual reunification of families, for some adolescents pursuit of this goal is impossible or unwise. For some older adolescents, a goal may be emancipation, upon which the youth legally would no longer be under parental control. Independent living programs are designed to prepare youths for emancipation or for adult independence by housing them in apartments and providing support for them to develop basic skills such as grocery shopping, meal preparation, money management, and so on.

Wilderness and adventure programs. Many people may be familiar with ropes courses and other physically challenging programs used by some organizations to promote team cohesiveness and individual self-confidence. Not surprisingly, such programs have been used in juvenile justice for a long time. Some wilderness and adventure programs require relatively long stays of many months in remote locations, in camps, wagon trains, or ocean voyages, and cannot really be considered community-based treatment. Others are of shorter duration, perhaps a few days or a weekend, and may be accompanied by more traditional community-based counseling, educational or aftercare components. All rely on physical challenges to the participants. Some of the more widely known wilderness and adventure programs include VisionQuest, Ocean-Quest, Outward Bound, Homeward Bound, Associated Marine Institutes, and several operated by the Eckerd Foundation.

Albert Roberts reviewed these and other wilderness programs used with delinquent youths. He concluded that the evidence suggests that many of these programs are more effective than institutions at reducing recidivism, although evaluations are neither consistent nor definitive. A meta-analysis by John Hattie and colleagues was based on ninety-six studies of out-of-school adventure programs, including Outward Bound, around the world. Not all of these served delinquent youths. These studies documented gains in several areas, including youths' leadership abilities, self-concept, personality, interpersonal skills, and adventurousness. Like Roberts, Hattie and his colleagues noted that effectiveness varied among programs.

Wrap-around services. The youthful clients of the mental health, special education, child welfare, and juvenile justice systems are essentially the same, differing mainly in the "door" through which they access services. Yet that door profoundly influences the nature of services provided in the traditional categorical environment in which separate systems provide services with separate funding streams. Moreover, many youths and families become involved in more than one of these categorical systems, leading to confusion and overlap in service planning and provision. As an alternative, several communities are experimenting with wraparound services. Operating from a managed care framework, wraparound services involve a collaboration among service providers including schools, juvenile court, child welfare agencies, and mental health services. Using pooled funding resources, case managers coordinate the efforts of treatment teams, drawn from the collaborative partners and including the parents of the youths, to provide an array of services tailored to the needs of each individual youth. Although its origins were in the mental health arena (Stroul), the concept of wraparound services extends to youths involved in the juvenile justice system as well.

Mentoring. Mentoring programs, such as Big Brothers and Big Sisters, have a long history in the delinquency prevention and youth development arenas. While several studies (as summarized in Catalano et al.) have demonstrated little effectiveness for mentoring efforts, other research has been more promising (Tierney, Grossman, and Resch). To be effective with young people who have already engaged in delinquent behavior, mentors require special training. Mentoring may be used in conjunction with a variety of community treatment programs in juvenile justice, and may also be a component of community aftercare programs, as discussed in the next section.

Juvenile Justice: Community Treatment - Aftercare [next] [back] Juvenile Justice: Community Treatment - Pre-adjudication

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