Mendota Juvenile Treatment Center

Program Goals/Target Population

The Mendota Juvenile Treatment Center (MJTC) is a residential facility that provides mental health treatment to serious and violent juvenile offenders in secured correctional institutions. The program was established by the Wisconsin State Legislature in 1995 to meet the needs of youths who are too unruly, aggressive, or “treatment refractory” to be housed in the state’s traditional correctional centers. Youths are typically transferred to MJTC when they are unresponsive to customary rehabilitation services provided in correctional institutions. MJTC seeks to control and rehabilitate such youth by combining the security consciousness of a traditional correctional institution with the strong mental health orientation of a private psychiatric facility.The overarching goal of the program is to replace the antagonistic responses and feelings created by traditional correctional institutions with more conventional bonds and roles, which can encourage positive social development.

Program Theory

The treatment model is based on the notion that rebellious behavior can become cyclical when the defiant response to a sanction is itself sanctioned, resulting in more defiance and increasing sanctions (Sherman 1993). With each reiteration, the youth is further disenfranchised from conventional goals and values and is increasingly “compressed” into a defiant behavior pattern. The MJTC uses a decompression model (Monroe et al. 1988) that attempts to erode the antagonistic bond with conventional roles, expectations, authority figures, and other potential sanctioning agents, and replace them with conventional bonds. A fundamental concept of the decompression model is that treatment should do more than just provide juvenile offenders with needed skills. Treatment should also address the youth’s detachment from, and antagonistic defiance of, conventional behaviors and lifestyles.

Services Provided

Unlike most secured, state-funded correctional facilities, MJTC is housed on the grounds of a state mental health center. The staff consists of experienced mental health professionals rather than security guards or correctional officers. This organizational design allows for a clinical–correctional hybrid approach to treating violent juvenile offenders that addresses security concerns while promoting a core mental health philosophy.

There are several organizational and structural differences between MJTC and traditional juvenile correctional institutions. Program residents are housed in single bedrooms in small inpatient units with about 15 youths per unit (as compared to 50 double-bunked youths in conventional juvenile correctional institutions). There is 1 psychologist, 1 social worker, and a half psychiatry position for every 20 youths in MJTC, compared to about 1 psychologist for every 75 youths and 1 social worker for every 40 youths in traditional correctional settings. In addition, day-to-day administration of MJTC is the responsibility of a psychiatric nurse manager, while correctional institutions are generally run by experienced security staff.

Although youth in juvenile correctional institutions receive mental health services, treatment is less frequent and usually offered in weekly individual or group therapy sessions. Conversely, within a private, clinical setting, youth in MJTC undergo intensive individualized therapy designed to treat their underlying emotional problems and “break the cycle of defiance” triggered by typical institutional settings. Whenever youth in treatment act out or become unruly, they receive additional therapy as well as enhanced security.

Intervention ID

16 to 18


Overall, the studies evaluating the impact of the Mendota Juvenile Treatment Center (MJTC) showed treatment had a significant impact on measures of felony and violent felony offenses, but did not impact misdemeanor offenses.

Study 1

Prevalence of Offending

The evaluation by Caldwell and Van Rybroek (2005) showed that at the 2-year follow-up period, 52 percent of the treatment group had recidivated compared to 73 percent of the comparison group. With regard to more serious violence, 37 percent of the comparison group was charged with a violent felony (25 percent of which involved serious victim injury or death), while only 18 percent of the treatment group was charged with a violent felony (only 7 percent of which involved serious victim injury)—all significant differences. However, there were no significant differences between the groups on misdemeanor offenses.

Offense-Free Time in the Community

After controlling for the effects of nonrandom assignment to the treatment and comparison groups, results showed MJTC predicted longer survival time for misdemeanor offenses. Thus, although the MJTC treatment did not appear to affect the number of juveniles who reoffended with misdemeanor offenses, the treatment did appear to have contributed to longer periods of community adjustment before the first misdemeanor offense.

In addition, after controlling for the effects of nonrandom assignment, results showed MJTC predicted both lower rates of serious and violent recidivism and longer survival times in the community. Thus, MJTC treatment not only reduced the number of youths involved in serious and violent offenses, but also increased the time youths spent in the community before failure.

Study 2

General Recidivism

Of the 141 youths with psychopathy features included in the study by Caldwell and colleagues (2006), 10.6 percent were released directly to adult prison following treatment. For these youths, recidivism occurred in juvenile institutional settings after treatment. Therefore, the results were examined in two ways: 1) combined institutional and community recidivism, and 2) community recidivism only.

Results showed that youths treated in the MJTC were significantly less likely to recidivate in general. Within 2 years of release from custody, 57 percent of treatment youths had recidivated in the institution or community, compared with 78 percent of comparison youths. Considering only cases of youths who had some community access during the follow-up period, 56 percent of MJTC–treated youths had recidivated following release compared to 73 percent of comparison youtsh.

Violent Recidivism

Youths treated in the MJTC were also significantly less likely to be involved in violence. Only 21 percent of MJTC–treated youths were involved in institutional or community violence within 2 years of release compared with 49 percent of comparison youths. Considering only cases of youth who had some community access during the follow-up period, 18 percent of treatment youths were involved in community violence compared to 36 percent of comparison youths.

In addition, 10.7 percent of MJTC youths were charged with a violent, injurious felony compared with 29.5 percent of comparison youths (a statistically significant difference). However, when considering only cases of youths who had some community access during the follow-up period, there were no significant differences between the groups on violent, injurious felony recidivism.

Offense-Free Time in the Community

After controlling for the effects of nonrandom assignment, results showed MJTC treatment had no reliable effect on general recidivism in the community. However, MJTC treatment did predict a slower rate of violent recidivism. Youths who completed MJTC treatment were 2.7 times less likely to become violent in the community than comparison youths. At the 2-year follow-up period, probability of community violence was approximately 16 percent for the MJTC group and 37 percent for the comparison group.

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