What makes MST Cost-Effective?

Posted by MST Services

Oct 12, 2023 9:30:00 AM


Multisystemic Therapy (MST) is an evidence-based therapeutic approach designed to address at-risk young people's behavioral challenges. For young people who meet MST Program criteria, MST is a treatment that can be more effective than incarceration and juvenile detention. MST treatment has been shown to reduce recidivism, whereas incarcerated young people will often re-offend by committing further crimes or acts of violence. 

MST isn't just renowned for its efficacy — it's also an economically sensible choice. Not only is it more cost-effective than incarceration, but it also reduces costs to the community and state by preventing recidivism.  

A study published in the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology found that the net benefit of MST is up to $200,000 per youth. The study found that every dollar spent on MST saved taxpayers and crime victims $5.04 in the 25 years after treatment. 

But why is MST so cost-effective? Let’s discuss how MST prevents recidivism, reduces crime, and uses pre-existing resources to treat at-risk young people. 

Long-Term Economic Impact of MST  

Rather than offering a temporary fix, MST aims for sustainable changes, reducing the likelihood of future (potentially more expensive) interventions by equipping the ecology with the skills to manage future behavior challenges.

In 2014, the Justice Policy Institute found that it costs over $140,000 per year to incarcerate a juvenile. And yet, the re-arrest rate for juvenile offenders can be as high as 75% 

Incarceration is costly, and it doesn’t necessarily prevent future crime. Crime is costly in itself — in addition to the personal costs it has on the victims, it adds further strain on police and court resources. Plus, if the crime results in the person being incarcerated again, that’s an additional expense. 

Research shows that MST is more likely to reduce recidivism than incarceration. Juvenile offenders who receive MST services experience 54% fewer rearrests over a 14-year period and 75% fewer violent felony arrests over a 22-year period. 

And MST doesn’t just impact the young person in question, but their families as a whole.  

Their family's experience: 

  • 40% reduction in sibling arrests 
  • 55% reduction in sibling felony arrests 
  • 94% fewer caregiver felonies 
  • 70% fewer caregiver misdemeanors 

Incarceration isn’t just expensive for the taxpayer but for the individual and their family. The Prison Policy Initiative notes that people who are incarcerated lose an average of $500,000 in earnings over their lifetime, and 27% of formerly incarcerated people are unemployed. 

MST is cheaper than incarceration but also reduces crime in the long run, thus saving crime victims and taxpayers money in the future. 

Prevention-oriented Approach

MST operates from a proactive and prevention approach. By addressing behavioral challenges head-on and at their root causes, MST decreases the chances of these issues escalating to the point where pricier interventions, like hospitalization or incarceration, become necessary. 

Consider MST's approach to young people with substance abuse issues. Instead of waiting for the use to intensify or shift to a different substance, MST would engage family, school, and community to form a supportive network around the youth, reducing the chances of substance-induced hospital visits or criminal activities that lead to incarceration.

According to research, MST also prevents mental health crises and the need for psychiatric hospitalization. Not only does this reduce stress to the individual and their loved ones, but it also means there’s less of an economic burden on the state and the family, as psychological intervention can be costly. MST will look at any trauma symptoms and how they are impacting the current behavioral concerns and support the ecology and family to learn how to manage those symptoms in an ongoing way. 

Use of Existing Community Resources 

MST treats young people in the context of the systems they’re in — the family system, the school system, and the community system at large.  

This holistic approach is one of the reasons why it works so well. It’s also one of the reasons why MST is so cost-effective.  

Recognizing that every community has inherent strengths and resources, MST leverages these to facilitate positive change. For example, where necessary, MST might engage school counselors, local community programs, prosocial activity resources, and low-cost medication management services.  

These programs and facilities already exist — MST helps families use these resources to their advantage. As such, it reduces costs. 

Involving as many community and family members as possible creates a supportive environment tailored to each child but also diminishes the dependency on external, often costlier, interventions.  

For instance, MST might direct a young person struggling to a boxing program to help them manage anger in a constructive way and fill their time with prosocial people rather than letting them have hours of unmonitored time where they can do antisocial activities, such as substances.

Decreased Costs for the Justice System

MST's proactive stance doesn't just benefit the families directly involved; it also leads to significant savings for the justice system.  

By effectively curbing recidivist behavior in young people, MST ensures fewer adolescents face repeated incarcerations.  

Each young person kept out of detention centers or correctional facilities represents substantial cost savings. As mentioned,  incarcerated young people can cost the state an average of $140,000 annually.  

According to the Prison Policy Initiative, the US government spends an average of $80.7 billion on public prisons and jails and $3.9 billion on private prisons and jails.  

This weighty economic burden can be reduced through more effective approaches to juvenile justice, such as MST. By funding MST programs, we save costs to the government, individuals, and communities.  

These savings aren't just monetary. The societal savings — in terms of a rehabilitated person contributing positively to their community instead of committing further crimes — are immeasurable.

MST Service - A Model of Cost-Effective Intervention 

MST doesn't just offer hope to families in turmoil. It also ensures communities and systems aren't burdened with excessive costs. It provides a cost-effective alternative to incarceration — and one that actually prevents individuals from re-offending.  

This saves the taxpayer money but also prevents added costs for the individuals, families, and communities at large.  

MST is an evidence-based alternative to incarceration or severe system consequences due to serious externalizing, anti-social, and/or criminal behaviors. MST effectively treats young people and their families by utilizing a built-in suite of interventions within the home, school, and community settings. Treatment is tailored to the family and their individual strengths and needs, which could include but is not limited to the following types of therapies: Family Therapy, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Drug and Alcohol Treatment, Mental Health Services, Peer Ecology Assessment and Intervention, Trauma-informed treatment, and Educational/ Vocational Support.  

If you or someone you know is interested in learning more about Multisystemic Therapy, contact us here.


Topics: Multisystemic Therapy, evidence-based, cost-effective