What we already know from years of research is effective interventions for young people in the juvenile justice system must address risk factors across all aspects of the adolescent’s life. To succeed, the intervention has to take into account what puts the youth at risk for current and future anti-social behaviors, whether it has to do with the individual, family, peer, school, or community. Not to be overlooked are such considerations as to whether there are warm, supportive relationships with caring adults and positive peer associations, which help steer juveniles away from behaviors that put them at risk for criminal activity.
Making a Difference
What seems to be less known is the effectiveness of interventions that target young people at the transitional stage from adolescence to early adulthood, a critical time that can prevent criminal activity from escalating. As we hear about adult incarceration rates increasing, and the need for more prisons, it is imperative that we put the right information into the hands of our policymakers so they know that interventions developed and used to address juvenile delinquency can, in fact, make a difference in the adult-criminal systems.
A recently published Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) bulletin called, Changing Lives: Prevention and Intervention to Reduce Serious Offending is an excellent review of the highest-quality evaluation studies and research that can point policymakers in the right direction.
- The paucity of high-quality evaluations of programs that have measured the impact on offending in early adulthood
- Promising signs that early prevention programs produce lasting effects on offending and other important life-course outcomes into early adulthood
- Encouraging signs that family-based interventions for adjudicated delinquents operating outside the juvenile-justice system reduce offending in early adulthood
- Available evidence about intervention modalities used with both the young and adult offenders indicates that effects are substantially similar. This implies that such programs should be effective with adult offenders, as well. More resources to research this are needed.
The next critical question we have to ask ourselves is “how do we get this information where it needs to be?” Here are some suggestions.
First and foremost, find a policymaker, and send him or her information on the issue of adult crime or criminal activity and the efficacy of evidence-based practices in getting to the root cause.
Do not send information in emails. Policymakers get a ton of emails, so this doesn’t grab their attention. A more personal touch such as a telephone call or a personal letter does the trick.
Invite them to be keynote speakers or give a welcoming address at conferences or large community meetings. Only ask them for an hour of their time over breakfast or lunch when they are able to leave the daily demands of their positions. Once you have someone willing to champion the cause, ask them to invite other colleagues to join them.
Use pre-existing community groups. Identify who is already meeting in your area, and tap into them as a resource. Joining forces with others already in play will increase your success and exposure.
Find out what the local police chief or sheriff is doing. Often they have the power to garner support for interventions that impact crime in their jurisdiction.
Keeping juveniles from becoming adult criminals should be a priority. Pushing policymakers toward interventions such as MST or MTFC is a good first step.
For more information on MST effectiveness. Download this white paper.