The Research

A comprehensive aftercare model integrates two distinct fields of criminological research: intervention research and community restraint research. Intervention strategies focus on changing individual behavior to prevent delinquency. Community restraint strategies prevent criminal activities by reducing an offender's capacity and opportunity to commit crimes. The following sections summarize major findings in each of these areas of research as it relates to aftercare.


When applied to an aftercare model, intervention strategies (e.g., counseling, behavioral programs, restitution, probation, employment, vocational and academic programs) seek to prevent delinquency by changing individual behavior. Despite early skepticism regarding intervention programs, recent literature reviews and meta-analyses demonstrate that intervention programs can effectively reduce delinquency (Lipsey, 2000; Lipsey, 1992; Andrews et al., 1990). In fact, Sherman and colleagues report that the "important issue is not whether something works but what works for whom" (Sherman et al., 1997).

A variety of intervention strategies work for juvenile offenders, and successful treatment approaches often have common characteristics (Andrews et al., 1990; Sherman et al., 1997). Some of these characteristics are described below.

  • Targeting specific dynamic and criminogenic characteristics. Although numerous risk factors are criminogenic—associated with criminal activity—some, such as age, gender, and early criminal behavior, are static—that is, they cannot be changed in treatment. To be effective, rehabilitative efforts must focus on factors that are both dynamic—amenable to change—and criminogenic. Research indicates that dynamic criminological factors include attitudes, cognitions, behavior regarding employment, education, peers, authority, substance abuse, and interpersonal relationships that are directly related to an individual's criminal behavior (Sherman et al., 1997).
  • Implementing a plan that is strictly adhered to by trained personnel. Programs must have therapeutic integrity—that is, they must be delivered according to a specific plan and design. Research indicates that incomplete or poorly implemented programs delivered by untrained personnel to offenders who spend only a minimal amount of time in the program will not successfully reduce recidivism (Altschuler, Armstrong, and MacKenzie, 1999; Sherman et al., 1997). Systemic barriers to implementing intervention programs include (1) unstable operating environments, (2) competing agency priorities, (3) crowded facilities and aggressive diversion practices, (4) poor staff selection and training, (5) staff turnover and vacancies, and (6) poor access to services because of inadequate transportation or a long distance between the community and the institution (Weibush, McNulty, and Le, 2000).
  • Requiring staff and offenders to make frequent contact. Frequent and quality interaction between service providers and offenders is essential for effective treatment. Moreover, programs of longer duration are more successful than programs of shorter duration, regardless of the number of individual treatment sessions. The most effective treatment programs provide larger amounts of meaningful contact with offenders over a longer treatment period (Lipsey, 1992).
  • Using cognitive and behavioral treatments. Lipsey (1992) examined more than 400 program evaluations in one of the most extensive meta-analyses3 of juvenile delinquency programs. He found that the most effective intervention programs used structured, focused treatment based on behavioral, skills-oriented, and multimodel methods rather than less structured, less focused approaches (e.g., counseling). Moreover, evidence indicates greater reductions in recidivism if treatment is provided in community settings rather than in institutions (Andrews et al., 1990; Lipsey, 1992, 2000). In a meta-analysis of the most serious juvenile offenders, Lipsey, Wilson, and Cothern (2000) found that the best programs for institutionalized youth reduced recidivism by 30–35 percent, whereas the best programs for noninstitutionalized youth reduced recidivism by about 40 percent4. The most effective treatments for institutionalized offenders were interpersonal skills programs and family-style group homes. The most effective treatments for noninstitutionalized offenders were individual counseling, interpersonal skills programs, and behavioral programs. The least effective treatment types were wilderness/challenge, early release, probation/parole, deterrence, and vocational (noninstitutionalized) and milieu (institutionalized) therapy.
  • Targeting offenders with the highest risk of recidivism. According to Andrews and colleagues, treatment for delinquent behavior is most effective when it is provided to juveniles with the highest risk of recidivism (Andrews et al., 1990). Programs that target low-risk offenders show little reduction in recidivism because few of those offenders tend to repeat delinquent behavior. In a review of 200 studies, Lipsey and colleagues found that the average intervention effect for programs directed at serious offenders "was positive, statistically significant, and equivalent to a recidivism reduction of about 6 percentage points from a 50 percent baseline, but variation across studies was considerable" (Lipsey, Wilson, and Cothern, 2000:4).

Community Restraint

Community restraint refers to the surveillance and control of offenders who are enrolled in alternative or intermediate sanction programs. Community restraint activities include contact with parole officers or other correctional personnel, urine testing for the use of illegal substances, electronic monitoring, employment verification, intensive supervision, house arrest, and residence in halfway houses. Theoretically, increasing the surveillance of offenders "will prevent criminal activities by reducing both their capacity and their opportunity to commit crimes. Additionally, it is expected that the punitive nature of the sanctions will act as specific deterrence to reduce the offender's future criminal activity" (Sherman et al., 1997:485).

Research shows that community restraint is more promising when surveillance is combined with treatment. For example, Land and colleagues (1990) examined the North Carolina Court Counselors Intensive Protective Supervision Project, in which juvenile offenders (mostly status offenders) received both surveillance and treatment. Using a random assignment research design, researchers found that youth with no prior offenses had fewer new delinquent offenses than the control group (i.e., no treatment, no surveillance). Researchers also found that youth with prior delinquent offenses had more delinquent offenses. In another study, Sontheimer and Goodstein (1993) examined an intensive aftercare program for serious juvenile offenders in Pennsylvania in which the experimental group received both community restraint and services. Using a random assignment research design, the evaluation found that the experimental group had significantly fewer rearrests and a lower mean number of rearrests compared with the control group (i.e., no treatment, no surveillance). Although the research indicates that community restraint alone does not effectively reduce recidivism, evidence suggests that combining community restraint and treatment may effectively reduce juvenile recidivism. Unfortunately, these studies have a methodological flaw that makes interpreting the results difficult. Because the main objective of these programs is restraint, the research designs focus on restraint without paying much attention to treatment. As a result, the research cannot separate the effects of restraint from the effects of treatment.

It should also be noted that community restraint programs do not seem to lead to more arrests, at least for high-risk offenders; moreover, they may be significantly less costly than incarceration while maintaining the same level of public safety. For example, in an evaluation of the Nokomis Challenge Program in Michigan, Deschenes and Greenwood (1998) found that after 2 years, there was little difference between youth who participated in the program and youth in the control group. However, the cost of placing youth in a state training school or private facility was roughly $83,400 for a 2-year period, and the cost of placing youth in the Challenge program was approximately $60,500—a savings of more than $10,000 a year.

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Aftercare Services Juvenile Justice Practice Series