Section 4: Treatment
2 Hours


Part II: Rehabilitative Trends in the Juvenile Justice System

Before we go any further with a specific discussion about treatment for juvenile sex offenders, I’d like to spend a few minutes highlighting some broader trends that relate to treatment and rehabilitation in the juvenile justice system overall. Considering some of these historical shifts over time may help put our more current approaches with juvenile sex offenders into context, and may explain—at least to some degree—the increase in programming for juvenile sex offenders over the past several years. It is also salient given the issues involving deviancy training that we just outlined.

Juvenile Crime Wave and “Get Tough” Approaches

As you are probably aware, separate juvenile and family courts were initially established in large part because of the recognition that adolescents differ from adults, that adolescents may not necessarily have the same “criminal minds” as adults, and that the courts’ responses to delinquent behavior should focus on the individual needs of the youth and their families. Providing treatment and other rehabilitative services was, therefore, a primary focus within earlier years of juvenile justice. Over time, however, some began to question whether or not the rehabilitative efforts of the juvenile courts were being effective in reducing crime among youth.

In particular, this became an issue beginning in the late 1980s and peaking during the mid 1990s, when there was a fairly sharp rise in violent crimes committed by juveniles—sometimes referred to as the “juvenile crime wave.” And in response to this increase in youth–perpetrated violence, nearly all of the states in the country made sweeping changes to their juvenile statutes in what became known as a “get tough on juvenile crime” era.11

Use SlideUse Slide #8: “Getting Tough” on Juvenile Crime

Among the typical reforms were reductions in the lower age by which youth could be tried as adults, elimination of the strict confidentiality guidelines for some juvenile court records and proceedings, the establishment of mandatory minimum sentence structures for juvenile crimes, and the reduction of judicial discretion in the juvenile and family courts.12

As a result of these widespread juvenile crime reforms, the emphasis on treatment and other rehabilitative services was largely replaced by a focus on punishment and incapacitation. And the responses from juvenile and family courts managing delinquency cases began to look much more like the responses from adult criminal courts. In fact, increasing numbers of youth were transferred to the adult courts for disposition. So, the rehabilitative philosophy shifted within the juvenile justice system, and the prevailing philosophy was to “treat juveniles like adults.” Overall, it was believed that this would result in increased community safety.

Impact of “Get Tough” Approaches

In recent years, some of these reforms have been called into question because of concerns about the impact of these changes and whether or not community safety has been enhanced by them.13 Generally, in order to examine the impact of these trends, researchers have compared the recidivism rates of juveniles who were transferred to the adult courts and subsequently received more punitive, adult–oriented, criminal court sanctions to similar groups of juveniles who remained under the jurisdiction of the juvenile and family courts and received juvenile-oriented dispositions. And what they found may be surprising to some of you.

Use SlideUse Slide #9: Impact of Adult Dispositions on Youthful Offenders

Youth who received adult dispositions and sanctions recidivated much more often than youth remaining in the juvenile justice system, with some studies indicating that these youth were much more likely to recidivate—in some instances, having double the likelihood!14 In addition, these youth were successful for much shorter periods of time upon release from custody. In other words, they recidivated at much faster rates—twice as fast in some instances.15 And when they recidivated, youth who received adult dispositions tended to commit more serious types of crimes.16

Also worth noting is that, compared to youth processed in the juvenile courts, youth who received adult dispositions were less likely to receive treatment and other rehabilitative services and were more likely to receive longer sentences.17 Longer sentences of incarceration are certainly more costly, and do not appear to reduce recidivism significantly among juveniles—in fact, incarceration may be associated with increased recidivism.18

And sadly, researchers found that adult–processed youth are more likely to be victimized violently or sexually in adult facilities and are more prone to suicide.19

Taken together, it seems fairly evident, then—as these researchers concluded—that the shifts in the juvenile court philosophies and approaches did not produce the desired results. As a result, we’ve experienced a return to a more balanced approach to juvenile justice, with a goal of reducing recidivism by using methods and approaches that have been found to “work” with juvenile offenders. Many of you are probably familiar with this growing trend, which has been referred to a shift toward “evidence–based practices,” or interventions that have been found to be effective in reducing recidivism with juveniles.

The Movement Toward Evidence–Based Rehabilitative Practices

Fortunately, there is a fairly considerable body of research that can provide guidance to juvenile justice practitioners and policymakers about what kinds of rehabilitative services can be most effective with juveniles. Through meta–analyses—whereby researchers combine multiple studies to determine the overall effect of various treatment approaches—several types of interventions have been found to “work” with juvenile offenders. And other approaches simply “don’t work.”

And although it is beyond the scope of this training to provide a comprehensive review of the range of interventions that “work” with juvenile delinquents in general, it might be informative nonetheless to highlight a few of them to give you a sense for what the research has shown. Moreover, some of these approaches may have some applicability to juvenile sex offender treatment.

Use SlideUse Slide #10: Examples of Evidence–Based Interventions for Youth

Because of the good scientific evidence that exists for these three approaches, I’ll highlight Wraparound Services, Functional Family Therapy, and Multisystemic Therapy. And then we’ll continue our discussions about juvenile sex offender treatment specifically.

Wraparound Services

As its name suggests, the idea behind the wraparound strategy is to surround youth with a range of needed services in the community, ideally to prevent them from requiring a residential or institutional placement.20 Generally speaking, with the wraparound approach, a case manager is responsible for identifying and brokering needed services for the youth and family. The case manager also tends to assume supportive, mentoring, and accountability or supervisory roles. Oftentimes, jurisdictions that utilize a wraparound approach rely on pooled resources and multidisciplinary collaborative teams comprised of key stakeholders from social services, juvenile justice, and mental health agencies in order to serve these youth and their families more effectively.

Research suggests that wraparound approaches are very promising, as evidenced by improvements on many clinical and social variables, and with reductions in recidivism of nearly 15 percent.21

Functional Family Therapy

Another promising approach for youth—both in terms of prevention and intervention—is known as Functional Family Therapy (FFT), which addresses multiple areas associated with delinquency and which has a primary emphasis on the dynamics and structure within the family unit.22 A key goal is to enhance the ability of the parents or caregivers to provide adequate structure, limits, discipline, and support. FFT has been used for over thirty years with delinquent youth and their families, and the research has consistently demonstrated that youth who participate in FFT have significantly lower rates of recidivism relative to comparison groups of youth receiving other interventions, such as individual therapy. In fact, researchers have found that FFT reduces recidivism by as much as 25 percent.23 Because it is a relatively short–term intervention with low costs, FFT certainly appears to be a very cost–effective approach that “works” with juveniles.

Multisystemic Therapy

Yet another intervention that seems to “work” with delinquent and violent youth is Multisystemic Therapy (MST).24 Similar to Functional Family Therapy, MST is an intensive, family–based treatment approach that is designed to address the multiple factors that are associated with delinquent or antisocial behavior, including individual, family, peer, and community influences. And because it is important that youth and their families learn to effectively function and become autonomous, the treatment plans are developed collaboratively between the family and the treatment provider—and MST interventions are delivered in the youth’s natural environment: home, school, and community.

Some common goals for MST include improving family functioning, enhancing parenting skills, increasing the youth’s associations with prosocial peers, improving school performance, and building upon community supports. The research indicates that these and other positive goals are often attained in a cost-effective manner; and that recidivism rates of youth are reduced by more than 30 percent.25

You may be aware that MST may be something that “works” with juvenile sex offenders as well.26 Specifically, preliminary research revealed that when juvenile sex offenders and their families participated in MST interventions, family functioning, school performance, peer relations, and behavioral adjustment all improved, and sexual and non-sexual recidivism rates were significantly lower than those for the comparison groups.27 Near the end of this section of the training, we’ll talk a bit more about this promising research with sexually abusive youth.

Cognitive–Behaviorally Based Juvenile Sex Offender Treatment

So as you have seen, there are a number of other interventions in the juvenile justice field that are supported by the research. And one of them—MST—has been applied to the treatment of juvenile sex offenders, but it is still relatively new as a strategy for these youth. The approach to treatment that has been used most often with juvenile sex offenders is the cognitive-behavioral model.

Although well–designed and rigorous treatment outcome research on juveniles remains very limited, the available evidence seems to suggest that this approach can have a positive impact and may significantly reduce recidivism among these youth.28 And that is, in the broadest sense, the overarching goal of sex offender treatment: to reduce future victimization.
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