Overview of the Comprehensive Strategy

The Comprehensive Strategy incorporates two principal components:

  • Preventing youth from becoming delinquent through prevention strategies for all youth with a focus on those at greatest risk.

  • Improving the juvenile justice system response to delinquent offenders through a system of graduated sanctions and a continuum of treatment alternatives that include immediate intervention, intermediate sanctions, community-based corrections, and aftercare services.

The Comprehensive Strategy incorporates the philosophy of balanced and restorative justice by employing restitution, community service, and other restorative justice programs when appropriate (Howell, 1995). This multidisciplinary, research-based framework is guided by the following six principles for preventing and reducing high-risk behaviors:

  • Strengthening the family in its primary responsibility to instill moral values and provide guidance and support to children.

  • Supporting core social institutions (schools, churches, youth service organizations, community organizations) in their roles to develop capable, mature, and responsible youth.

  • Promoting delinquency prevention as the most cost-effective approach to reducing juvenile delinquency.

  • Intervening immediately and effectively when delinquent behavior first occurs to prevent delinquent offenders from becoming chronic offenders or from progressively committing more serious and violent crimes.

  • Establishing a system of graduated sanctions that holds each juvenile offender accountable, protects public safety, and provides programs and services that meet identified treatment needs.

  • Identifying and controlling the small percent of serious, violent, and chronic juvenile offenders who commit the majority of juvenile felony-level offenses.

Continuum of Services and Strategies

An effective continuum of services in a community offers a range of programs and services that provide the "right resources for the right kid at the right time." The services meet the dual objectives of promoting the healthy development of children and youth and ensuring the safety of the community.

The primary goal of the Comprehensive Strategy is to create a seamless continuum of juvenile and family services and programs within a community. This "continuum of care" begins by providing research-based prevention services for all youth and ensuring targeted programs for youth at greatest risk. For juvenile offenders, the Comprehensive Strategy provides immediate interventions. In addition, for youth who have committed more serious or repeated delinquent acts, the juvenile justice system needs to incorporate research-based graduated sanctions, like those outlined by the Comprehensive Strategy, that combine accountability and rehabilitation components designed to deter future delinquency and protect the community.

The primary objective of a community's Comprehensive Strategy process is to unify and enhance existing programs and services and to develop a systematic approach for:

  • Identifying and reaching populations in need of prevention services.

  • Increasing communication and information sharing among all participating agencies and services.

  • Coordinating and strengthening existing effective programs.

  • Instituting new programs to fill identified service gaps in the current prevention and graduated sanctions continuum.

  • Monitoring and evaluating the implementation and impact of the Comprehensive Strategy process and its policies, systems, and services.

The process of planning and implementing a comprehensive community strategy involves several interrelated and ongoing steps: mobilizing the community, its key leaders, and other stakeholders and familiarizing them with the goals, principles, and elements of the Comprehensive Strategy process; conducting community assessments (e.g., analysis of risk factors, existing systems, and resources); and conducting a strategic planning process to identify, implement, and coordinate appropriate services and monitor their effectiveness.

Overview of the Comprehensive Strategy

Mobilizing the Community

A key goal of the Comprehensive Strategy is to mobilize all segments of the community—schools, government agencies, law enforcement, courts and corrections, public and private social service agencies, businesses, civic organizations, the faith community, and private citizens—to cooperate in a coordinated and comprehensive approach to the problems and needs of juveniles in their neighborhoods and the community at large. Commitment from community leaders is crucial to the success of a coordinated effort. These individuals must understand and champion the principles and goals of the Comprehensive Strategy and be willing to commit resources to the assessment, planning, and implementation processes.

Conducting Community Assessments

A risk-focused planning approach to reducing juvenile delinquency is a cornerstone of the Comprehensive Strategy. Both the prevention and graduated sanctions components of the strategy are based on assessing and responding systematically to risk factors—at the community level for prevention efforts and at the individual level for objective decisionmaking about appropriate interventions for system-involved youth. The ultimate goal of the Comprehensive Strategy is a continuum of services, including research-based prevention programs that address risk factors in the community and a system of research-based graduated sanctions that provide a range of dispositional alternatives for youth in the juvenile justice system based on their risk of reoffending and need for treatment.

Prevention. Risk and protection-focused prevention is based on the premise that, to prevent a problem from occurring, the factors contributing to the development of the problem (risk factors) must be identified and addressed. At the same time, factors that insulate or protect children from problems (protective factors) also must be strengthened. Considerable research over the past 30 years has identified a number of risk factors that are associated with juvenile problem behaviors including substance abuse, delinquency, teen pregnancy, dropping out of school, and violence (Hawkins, Catalano, and Miller, 1992; Yoshikawa, 1994). As illustrated in table 1, these risk factors operate in multiple domains: the community, family, school, and individual/peer group. Examples of risk factors include the exposure to drugs in the community, extreme economic and social deprivation, family conflict, favorable parental and peer attitudes toward problem behaviors, academic failure, lack of commitment to school, and alienation and rebelliousness.

Table 1

Protective factors either reduce the impact of risk factors or change the way the young person responds to risk. Protective factors are important throughout a child's developmental process. They include certain individual characteristics (e.g., resilient temperament, prosocial orientation), strong bonding and attachment to positive adults and the community, and a solid set of healthy beliefs and clear standards of behavior. Enhancing these protective factors is a goal of both formal and informal prevention programs and services, whether they focus on individuals, schools, families, or communities.

As part of the Comprehensive Strategy process, communities collect and assess data about the nature and extent of their juvenile problems and the levels of their risk and protective factors. These assessment data help determine the types of prevention strategies needed in the community.

In addition to assessing risk and protective factors, communities also develop an inventory of available resources for preventing or addressing juvenile problems.

The Comprehensive Strategy is not just another program. It is a community-focused, research-based approach to juvenile delinquency that coordinates prevention services with the juvenile justice system's response to criminal behavior.

This process is designed to identify and assess existing prevention, early intervention, and graduated sanctions programs and services in the community and gaps that exist in the community's programs, services, and strategies.

Graduated sanctions. The graduated sanctions component of the Comprehensive Strategy is based on the belief that the juvenile justice system can effectively handle delinquent behavior through the judicious application of a range of graduated sanctions and treatment and rehabilitation services. To help determine the most appropriate sanctions for juvenile offenders, communities use a different type of risk assessment. In this case, objective, research-based risk assessment and classification tools focus on the individual youth to assess (1) the seriousness of the delinquent act; (2) the potential risk for reoffending based on the presence of validated predictors (e.g., delinquency history, life circumstances); and (3) the risk to public safety. Decisionmakers at all critical points in the juvenile justice system are guided by this risk assessment process, which is designed to promote consistency, rationality, and equity in the disposition of juvenile cases along a continuum of sanctions options.

A model continuum of sanctions includes the following:

  • Immediate sanctions within the community for first-time, nonviolent offenders.
  • Intermediate sanctions within the community for more serious and repeat offenders.
  • Secure care programs for the most serious, violent, and chronic offenders.
  • Aftercare programs that provide high levels of social control and treatment.

The Comprehensive Strategy assessment process for graduated sanctions involves identifying and evaluating existing risk assessment tools and, as with prevention programs, developing an inventory of community treatment and sanctions resources to identify gaps.

Broadly defined, risk assessment and classification in juvenile justice refer to the process of estimating an individual's likelihood of continued involvement in delinquent behavior and deciding the most appropriate intervention strategy for the identified risk level. Classification decisions based on risk assessment are made at all levels of the juvenile justice process, including reporting, arrest, intake, detention, prosecution, disposition, and placement. In conjunction with risk assessment, a needs assessment is used to identify individual problem areas to help ensure that youthful offenders receive appropriate program services (i.e., needs assessments inform case planning rather than classification decisions).

Comprehensive Strategic Planning

After completing the collection and analysis of risk factors, needs, and resource data, a community has a great deal of information with which to develop its own comprehensive strategy for addressing serious, violent, and chronic juvenile delinquency. The initial goals are to identify and systematically address three to five high-priority community risk factors through prevention efforts and to establish a full range of appropriate community-based sanctions for youthful offenders. To meet these goals, the community identifies and works to fill gaps in the systems, processes, resources, services, and programs available to respond to the needs of its youth.

Subsequently, the community examines its capacity to address the identified community risks and to ensure that the right resources are available to each youth (and family) at the right time. This planning process involves developing new programs and enhancing existing services to ensure that they are research based, data driven, and outcome focused and will address risks and promote the positive social development of youth at all points along the prevention-to-sanctions continuum. The process also requires examination of legislative and systems issues that may diminish the effectiveness of a community's response.

A long-term plan is not complete without a process for assessing how well it was implemented and whether it reached its desired outcomes. Implementation of a comprehensive strategy may involve many changes in decisionmaking, resource allocation, service and programmatic goals, case processing, information sharing and use, and other aspects of the human services and juvenile justice systems. Implicit in the data-driven approach of the Comprehensive Strategy is a framework for ongoing evaluation of whether the desired programmatic and systems changes have occurred and whether they are having the desired effects.

OJJDP is conducting a national process evaluation to better understand the factors associated with successful community planning and implementation efforts. The evaluation will also examine the roles that OJJDP, State, and local leaders can play to facilitate these processes. A national impact evaluation to determine the specific crime-related effects of the Comprehensive Strategy in each community is also planned. In addition, OJJDP provides evaluation technical assistance to communities to conduct their own process and impact evaluations.

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The Comprehensive Strategy: Lessons Learned From the Pilot Sites Juvenile Justice Bulletin March 2000