Prevention & Early Intervention
Typically, juvenile delinquency follows a trajectory similar to that of normal adolescent development. In other words, children and youth tend to follow a path toward delinquent and criminal behavior rather than engaging randomly.1Research has shown that there are two types of delinquents,
- those in whom the onset of severe antisocial behavior begins in early childhood, and
- those in whom this onset coincides with entry into adolescence.2
In either case, these developmental paths give families, communities, and systems the opportunity to intervene and prevent the onset of antisocial behaviors and justice system involvement.
In light of the growing body of research, we now know that the better and more cost-effective place to stop the “cradle to prison pipeline” is as close to the beginning of that pipeline as possible. Early intervention prevents the onset of delinquent behavior and supports the development of a youth’s assets and resilience.3 While many past approaches focus on remediating visible and/or longstanding disruptive behavior, research has shown that prevention and early intervention are more effective. 4
In addition to societal and personal benefits, research has demonstrated that delinquency prevention programs are a good financial investment. For example, a 2001 Washington State Institute for Public Policy (WSIPP) study found that the total benefits of effective prevention programs were greater than their costs. More recent research by WSIPP found that sound delinquency-prevention programs can save taxpayers seven to ten dollars for every dollar invested, primarily due to reductions in the amount spent on incarceration.
In essence, intervening early “not only saves young lives from being wasted,” but also prevents the onset of adult criminal careers and reduces the likelihood of youth becoming serious and violent offenders. This in turn reduces the burden of crime on society, and saves taxpayers billions of dollars.5
Positive Youth Development
Several researchers have promoted a positive youth development model to address the needs of youth who might be at risk of entering the juvenile justice system.
One positive youth development model addresses the six life domains of work, education, relationships, community, health, and creativity. The two key assets needed by all youth are (1) learning/doing and (2) attaching/belonging. When the necessary supports and services are provided to assist youth in the six life domains, it is expected that positive outcomes will result.6
What are Effective Programs?
Under this prevention and early intervention framework, an increasing body of research is being conducted to determine which of the many existing programs are truly effective. Current literature indicates that effective programs are those that aim to act as early as possible and focus on known risk factors and the behavioral development of juveniles.7 In general, the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention recommends that the following types of school and community prevention programs be employed:
- Classroom and behavior management programs
- Multi-component classroom-based programs
- Social competence promotion curriculums
- Conflict resolution and violence prevention curriculums
- Bullying prevention programs
- Afterschool recreation programs
- Mentoring programs
- School organization programs
- Comprehensive community interventions
The Youth.gov program directory provides up-to-date information for effective programs that address risk and protective factors related to juvenile justice and delinquency prevention. All programs included in the program directory have been rigorously reviewed based on their conceptual framework, whether or not the program was implemented as intended, how it was evaluated, and the findings of the evaluations. Programs found to be effective are classified on a three-tier continuum:
- Level 1: In general, when implemented with a high degree of fidelity (effectiveness), these programs demonstrate robust empirical findings, using a reputable conceptual framework and an evaluation design of the highest quality.
- Level 2: In general, when implemented with sufficient fidelity, these programs demonstrate adequate empirical findings, using a sound conceptual framework and an evaluation design of high quality (quasi-experimental).
- Level 3: In general, when implemented with minimal fidelity, these programs demonstrate promising (yet perhaps inconsistent) empirical findings, using a reasonable conceptual framework and a limited evaluation design (single group pre-test) that requires confirmation of causality using more appropriate experimental techniques.
The directory also includes youth-focused programs from SAMHSA’s National Registry of Evidence-Based Programs and Practices (NREPP), another online registry of mental health and substance abuse interventions.
1 Kendziora & Osher, 2004
2 Silverthorn & Frick, 1999
3 Osher, Quinn, Poirier, & Rutherford, 2003
4 Loeber, Farrington, & Petechuk, 2003
5 Greenwood, 2008, p. 186
6 Butts, Bazemore, & Meroe, 2010
7 Loeber, Farrington, & Petechuk, 2003
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