Effectiveness of Treatment Types

The question asked at the beginning of this Bulletin, "Can intervention programs reduce recidivism rates among serious delinquents?" has been answered. A review of the statistical findings of 200 studies found that the average intervention effect for these studies was positive, statistically significant, and equivalent to a recidivism reduction of about 6 percentage points from a 50-percent baseline, but variation in effects across studies was considerable.

Because there were relatively few studies of any one type of treatment and a range of influential variables, only tentative conclusions can be drawn from this meta-analysis. The first and most important finding is that sufficient research has yet to be conducted on the effects of intervention with serious offenders. Keeping this in mind, then, the question arises, "What types of programs are most effective for reducing recidivism?"

Again, the differences between interventions with institutionalized and noninstitutionalized offenders should be noted. For noninstitutional interventions, effects were most strongly related to the characteristics of the juveniles, especially those with a history of prior offenses. The influence of treatment type and amount was intermediate, and program characteristics were weakly related to effect size. This order was reversed for interventions with institutionalized juveniles. Program characteristics were most strongly related to the size of intervention effects; the type and amount of treatment were moderately related, and the characteristics of the juveniles were not especially important.

The specific program characteristics most closely connected with the reduction of reoffense rates of serious offenders were different for institutional programs for incarcerated offenders than for noninstitutional programs for offenders on probation or parole in the community. These characteristics did not necessarily have to do with the type of intervention; some were part of the administrative context or due to the characteristics of the juveniles treated. Therefore, a good match between program concept, host organization, and the targeted juvenile is essential.

Effective Interventions for Noninstitutionalized Offenders

The selection criteria for the 117 studies of noninstitutionalized offenders included in this meta-analysis were not highly restrictive, resulting in a range of programs in the study. The samples also varied considerably in terms of the severity of the juveniles' offense records. This allowed for some analysis of whether the interventions generally used with noninstitutionalized offenders would also be effective in reducing the recidivism of more serious offenders. The research directly addressing this question is limited, so there is no assurance that these interventions would be effective. However, this meta-analysis indicated that the intervention effects were larger for samples having greater numbers of serious offenders (with prior offenses). Also, there was little difference in the effects of interventions with respect to other characteristics of the samples (extent of aggressive history, gender, age, and ethnic mix). These two factors provide reason to believe that the interventions that are generally effective for noninstitutionalized delinquents would be equally effective with more serious offenders. Table 1 compares the effectiveness of different types of treatments for noninstitutionalized and institutionalized offenders. Treatment types are given in descending order of effectiveness.

In this meta-analysis, the types of treatment that were the most effective for noninstitutionalized offenders—individual counseling, interpersonal skills, and behavioral programs—were shown to reduce recidivism by about 40 percent, a significant decrease. It is interesting to note that individual counseling appears to be an effective form of treatment for noninstitutionalized serious offenders but not for institutionalized offenders. Further examination of this discrepancy is warranted but was beyond the scope of the meta-analysis.

Following is a description of the most effective intervention programs for noninstitutionalized offenders, as represented in table 1.

Individual Counseling

  • Juvenile probationers received one-to-one counseling from citizen volunteers in addition to regular probationary supervision (Moore, 1987).

  • Reality therapy counseling, in which clients practiced eight steps until they were able to take charge of their lives, was given in weekly hour-long sessions for 12 weeks by two students enrolled in graduate-level counseling courses (Bean, 1988).

  • Juvenile sexual offenders were treated with multisystemic therapy (Borduin et al., 1990).

Interpersonal Skills

  • An experimental training program used drama and the production of videos to help delinquent juveniles see themselves from the perspective of others and to provide remedial training in role-taking skills (Chandler, 1973).

  • An intensive 10-day course in a large camp or church retreat facility for juveniles included followup that involved commitment to one or more personal or community projects (Delinquency Research Group, 1986).

Behavioral Programs

  • Adjudicated delinquents were ordered by the court to a family counseling program as a condition of probation (Gordon, Graves, and Arbuthnot, 1987).

  • Probationers were included in a contingency contracting program as a method of behavior therapy (Jessness et al., 1975).

Multiple Services

  • A probation program offered 24 different treatment techniques, with no juvenile receiving more than 12 or fewer than 4 techniques (Morris, 1970).

  • A project provided 3 months of intensive services to youth on probation, followed by approximately 9 months of followup services (Browne, 1975).

  • Youth were placed under intensive case management and received an array of services to meet their specific needs (Weisz et al., 1990).

Table 1: A Comparison of Treatment Types In Order of Effectiveness

Effective Interventions for Institutionalized Offenders

Of the 83 studies on interventions with institutionalized offenders examined in the meta-analysis, 74 involved juveniles in the custody of juvenile justice institutions and 9 involved residential institutions administered by mental health or private agencies. All juveniles had committed serious offenses warranting confinement or close supervision in an institutional facility.

Recidivism effect sizes for the different treatment types were most consistently positive for interpersonal skills interventions and teaching family homes. Recidivism effects for behavioral, community residential, and multiple service programs were somewhat less consistently positive. However, the small number of studies in each category makes it difficult to draw strong conclusions about the relative effectiveness of treatment types for institutionalized offenders. Using control group results from the available studies, the researchers estimated that the recidivism rate for these juveniles would be approximately 50 percent without treatment. Relative to that, the most effective treatments would reduce recidivism by 30–35 percent, a significant decrease considering the seriousness of these juveniles' delinquency.

The following describes the most effective intervention programs for institutionalized offenders, as represented in table 1.

Interpersonal Skills

  • Adolescent boys living in a community home school participated in twelve 1-hour sessions in social skills training over 6 weeks (Spence and Marzillier, 1981).

  • Adolescent boys at a youth center participated in aggression replacement training, which took place in 30 sessions over 10 weeks (Glick and Goldstein, 1987).

  • The Social Interactional Skills Program was a structured didactic program that encouraged youth to recall problematic past experiences and identify negative social stimuli that affected their social interactions (Shivrattan, 1988).

Teaching Family Homes

  • In a community-based, family-style group home, supervising adults (called teaching parents) used behavior modification with six to eight delinquent juveniles (Kirigan et al., 1982).

  • Adjudicated delinquents were in a community-based, family-style, behavior modification group home where teaching parents used a token economy to help youth progress behaviorally and academically (Wolf, Phillips, and Fixson, 1974).

Behavioral Programs

  • Incarcerated male and female adolescents participated in a 12-week cognitive mediation training program involving small discussion groups ranging in size from 10 to 14 youth (Guerra and Slaby, 1990).

  • Institutionalized male delinquents participated in a stress inoculation training program that included defining anger, analyzing recent anger episodes, reviewing self-monitoring data, and constructing an individualized six-item anger hierarchy (Schlicter and Horan, 1981).

  • Girls in a correctional institution were trained in reinforcement therapy principles and acted as peer counselors for incoming wards (Ross and McKay, 1976).

Community Residential Programs

  • A community-based group home for girls offered advocacy, counseling, educational support, and vocational support (Minnesota Governor's Commission on Crime Prevention and Control, 1973).

  • Institutionalized youth placed in a 32-bed therapeutic community setting in an inner-city neighborhood received counseling, remedial education, vocational assessment and training, and other services (Auerbach, 1978).

  • A community-based residential treatment center for adjudicated youth used extensive group discussion as therapy and emphasized progressive assumption of self-responsibility (Allen-Hagen, 1975).

Multiple Services

  • A probation department used a camp as an experimental program. The camp provided supportive services such as vocational training, skill-oriented education, job placement, and cottage living (Kawaguchi, 1975).

  • Institutionalized boys were treated in a multifaceted program to overcome academic, vocational, and psychological deficits (Thambidurai, 1980).

  • A planned reentry program used a short-term, 52-bed living unit that included cottage living, counseling, education, and recreation activities (Seckel and Turner, 1985).
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Effective Intervention for Serious Juvenile Offenders Juvenile Justice Bulletin April 2000