clear New and Emerging Research Efforts

Girls Program Evaluations and Girls Study Group

According to the FBI, between 1990 and 1999, the number of arrests of juvenile females increased more or decreased less than the number of male arrests in most offense categories. In 1980, females represented only 11 percent of all juvenile arrests for violent offenses. By 1999, that proportion had increased to 17 percent. The increase in arrests of juvenile females affects several levels of the juvenile justice system, from probation services to residential programs and aftercare. Between 1988 and 1997, the number of juvenile court delinquency cases involving males increased 39 percent, while the number of cases involving females increased 83 percent. During this period, the relative change in delinquency case rates was greater for females than for males in all major offense categories.

In response to this disturbing trend, OJJDP’s Research Division launched a program of research on delinquent girls and initiatives that target female juvenile offenders. In FY 1999, OJJDP’s Field-Initiated Research Program solicited applications for evaluations of projects for at-risk and delinquent girls. The following projects were selected for funding:

  • A Comparative Evaluation of Three Programs for Adolescent Female Offenders (University of Michigan). Wayne County, MI, which includes the city of Detroit, is in the process of developing community-based models of treatment to reduce the number of institutional placements for adjudicated female juvenile offenders. The project’s goal is to evaluate the following Wayne County programs for adolescent female offenders: a new program that incorporates gender-specific programming, home-based intervention, and community involvement (e.g., services for pregnant/ parenting adolescents); an intensive probation program that includes limited gender-specific programming; and a secure, female-only residential program that provides limited gender-specific treatment but no specialized programs to address the needs of pregnant/parenting offenders. The study will use a quasi-experimental design to evaluate the efficacy of the three programs listed above. In particular, researchers will use random assignment to compare the new community-based intervention model with the established intensive probation program. Researchers will also compare the outcomes of these community-based programs with those of the secure, female-only residential program.

    The research project will examine a range of outcomes, including recidivism, substance use, depression, community integration, academic performance, career aspirations, parenting readiness, and responsible sexual behavior. The project will also explore how specific program components relate to these outcomes. By determining whether characteristics of the participants relate to different outcomes in the three modes of treatment, researchers will also help identify important intervening variables that may result in positive outcomes for female offenders.

  • Evaluation of the GIRLS Project (University of Georgia, Department of Counseling and Human Development). This study will provide a process and outcome evaluation of the GIRLS (Gaining Insight into Relationships for Lifelong Success) Project, an ongoing project that addresses problems of female delinquency through the use of a relational approach to intervention. The program involves two primary levels of intervention. The first is a psychoeducational counseling group that deals with relationships and focuses on the girl in relation to self, family, peers, and teachers. The evaluation of this intervention will examine each of the four relational domains through the use of multimethod data collection (e.g., self-reports, other reports, school records, and recidivism data). The program’s second level of intervention includes court services workers involved in local juvenile justice systems and focuses on individual consultation, educational workshops, and local juvenile justice system policies and procedures. Researchers will evaluate this level of intervention by using qualitative observational data gathered from monthly meetings and focusing on court services workers’ use of gender-sensitive treatment recommendations and referrals.

    This evaluation will investigate the applicability of a relational approach to the treatment of female juvenile offenders; examine components of the relational approach that deal with a girl’s relationships to self, family, peers, and teachers; evaluate the impact of increasing the knowledge base of professionals involved in the local juvenile justice system; and provide an empirically based, alternative model of treatment that can be replicated in other settings.

  • Women and Gangs: A Field Research Study (Illinois State University). This study focuses on gang-involved women in Little Chicago, a neighborhood in Champaign, IL, with chronic gang problems. Research will consist of direct interviews with women who are hardcore or background members of the Vice Lords or Black P–Stones gang and systematic observations of gang activities over a 6-month period. The research will explore the women’s role in maintaining social capital through membership in a gang and the gang’s role in offering stable social supports for female gang members in neighborhoods plagued by chronic economic deprivation.

In 2000, OJJDP released a solicitation announcing the establishment of a Girls Study Group. The purpose of this study group will be to build a sound theoretical and empirical foundation to guide future development, testing, and dissemination of strategies that effectively prevent and reduce girls’ involvement in delinquency and violence and minimize the negative consequences of such involvement. Major tasks of the Girls Study Group will be to:

  • Systematically review the research literature on juvenile female antisocial, delinquent, and violent behavior; child abuse and neglect; and criminal victimization.

  • Develop a theoretical framework for the project based on gender-neutral and female-specific risk and protective factors.

  • Explore what is known about the developmental pathways that lead females to engage in delinquent and criminal behavior.

  • Conduct secondary analyses of data sets that may shed new light on female delinquency.

  • Examine research literature on program evaluations to identify programs, program elements, and implementation principles of strategies and public policies that are particularly effective or promising in preventing or reducing female juvenile delinquency.

The Girls Study Group will collaborate with OJJDP’s new National Girls Institute to develop programs, address evaluation issues, and disseminate the study group’s findings to policymakers, practitioners, and researchers.


Research on American Indian and Alaska Native Juveniles

The Indian Country Law Enforcement Initiative is a joint effort by the U.S. Departments of Justice and the Interior to address the compelling need to improve the administration of criminal and juvenile justice in Indian Country. OJJDP’s Tribal Youth Program (TYP) was established in FY 1999 as part of this initiative and provides funding for programming, training and technical assistance, and research. Based on ongoing consultation and coordination with practitioners and researchers in Indian Country, OJJDP’s program of research on American Indian and Alaska Native (AI/AN) juveniles is conducted according to the following basic principles: investigators should involve indigenous people in the design and implementation of research, a study’s research findings should have clear and practical implications for the community in which it was conducted and for AI/AN communities in general, and methods of inquiry should be based on and sensitive to local customs and values. TYP research projects currently under way include:

  • Evaluation Facilitation of the Tribal Youth Program (Michigan Public Health Institute). This participatory evaluation involves a subset of TYP program sites that volunteered to be involved in the research effort. The evaluation facilitator will provide training and technical assistance to program assessment teams at each site for a participatory evaluation that covers program processes and outcomes, analyze the juvenile and tribal justice system structures and operations at each evaluation site, and analyze the relationships between tribal governments and county, State, and Federal government agencies as they relate to juvenile justice responsibilities and operations. The evaluation’s approach is designed to build local evaluation capacity, while keeping the capacity community driven and directed toward practical application and utility of findings.

  • Development and Demonstration of a Culturally Appropriate Approach to Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (directed by Sylvia Wilber, College of Menominee Nation, WI). The goal of this project is to develop, demonstrate, and evaluate a culturally appropriate, integrated service approach to the prevention of juvenile delinquency among American Indian youth ages 11 to 18. This approach will be implemented by the Menominee Nation, and a guide will be developed for other tribal and urban Indian organizations or agencies to improve juvenile justice approaches with American Indian youth.

  • Research on Native American Delinquency and Juvenile Justice (directed by Lisa Bond-Maupin, Ph.D., New Mexico State University, Las Cruces). This project combines quantitative and qualitative data collection approaches to provide information on delinquency and on the legal processing of juveniles in a Southwestern tribe over an 11-year period. This study will examine the effect of opening a reservation casino on delinquency and processing of juveniles.

  • Action Research on Youth Gangs in Indian Country: Profiling the Problem and Seeking Solutions (California State University, Sacramento). This project will use qualitative and quantitative methods to examine Indian youth gangs in a number of reservation and urban settings. The study will allow researchers to identify the broad-based factors shaping the origin, organization, and activities of American Indian youth gangs. The study will also identify and recommend programmatic efforts to address gangs and youth involved in gangs in Indian Country.

The following projects are currently in development:

  • Longitudinal Study of Tribal Youth Risk and Resiliency. A 2-year planning period will precede implementation of an accelerated longitudinal study of tribal youth development and delinquency. The study will examine risk and protective factors within the cultural and historical context of American Indian youth and provide a unique database for examining the development of delinquency among American Indians. Findings will highlight the role of cultural and historical factors in increasing or reducing tribal youth’s risk of delinquency.

  • Tribal Youth Field-Initiated Research and Evaluation Program. As part of OJJDP’s ongoing commitment to field-initiated research, funding will be available for research and evaluation projects that focus on one or more of the following areas: child abuse and neglect, substance abuse, and indigenous approaches to juvenile justice. Research findings will inform OJJDP’s prevention and intervention efforts with tribal youth offenders, high-risk youth, and juvenile victims of crime.

  • Indian Country Supplement to the National Youth Gang Survey. In response to a growing number of reports of gang activity on Indian lands, NYGC will develop and administer an Indian Country supplement to its ongoing National Youth Gang Survey of law enforcement officials. The survey will assess the prevalence, composition, and activities of youth gangs in Indian territories not traditionally included in the national survey.


Understanding and Monitoring the “Whys” Behind Juvenile Crime Trends

The Nation’s two primary data sources on juvenile crime—the National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS) and the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) program—present similar pictures of the trends in juvenile violent crime during the past two decades. Both sources indicate a fairly stable pattern through most of the 1980s and a sharp increase in juvenile violence in the later part of the 1980s, lasting until the early 1990s, when rates of juvenile violence began a steady decline.

This significant improvement in national rates of juvenile violence offers a welcome relief, especially in light of dire predictions of a wave of violence by young superpredators in the new millennium. However, the sudden and precipitous change in rates of juvenile violence raises questions, such as the following, that have not yet been answered with a strong degree of certitude:

  • Why did rates fall?

  • Did the fall in rates happen everywhere?

  • Where did rates fail to fall and why?

  • What actions, policies, programs, and other steps should be continued to sustain the decline in rates of juvenile violence or to reverse an increase in such rates?

Numerous reporters, commentators, politicians, and scholars have put forth explanations for the rise and fall in juvenile crime. Many of these theories have been offered and supported with varying degrees of empirical evidence and with varying degrees of attention to juvenile crime trends and local divergence from national trends. Explanations include population-based theories, epidemiological and etiological theories (risk and protective factors), economic theories/policies, crime-focused public policies, social policies, and theories based on spiritual and cultural trends. To understand these theories fully, researchers and policymakers must sift through competing explanations for the rise and fall of juvenile crime rates and determine not only which merit further scrutiny in the exploration of juvenile crime and violence trends but where and how to pursue research hypotheses that emerge as promising based on this exercise.

To better understand factors correlated with the trend in juvenile crime and violence and explain future trends in delinquency and youth violence, OJJDP’s Research Division issued a solicitation in fall 2000 for research applications to undertake a definitive study of such recent trends. This 5-year research project will explore ways to determine the reasons for changes in local juvenile crime trends in the 1990s and monitor rates during this millennium. Federal, State, and local policymakers need a better sense of what went right in communities where declines occurred and what went wrong where increases occurred or where rates continued at high levels. Researchers, therefore, need to develop methods to understand and monitor the reasons for such changes. OJJDP expects the lessons learned from this inquiry to yield a number of tools that Federal, State, and local policymakers and planners can use to anticipate, monitor, and explain future trends and plan effective prevention and intervention strategies.


Mental Health and Juvenile Justice: Building a Model for Effective Service Delivery

Researchers estimate that between 9 and 13 percent of youth in the general population suffer from a diagnosable mental disorder at any given time.6 The prevalence of mental disorders among the approximately 1.8 million youth who enter the juvenile justice system each year is likely even higher. Yet, very little is known about the mental health needs of juvenile offenders. No large-scale national investigation of mental disorders in juvenile offenders has been conducted, and the lack of methodological consistency across smaller prevalence studies often produces inconsistent results. Since the mid-1990s, OJJDP has recognized the critical role that mental health problems play in the lives of youth involved in the juvenile justice system. As a result, OJJDP has been working for several years on a number of efforts to increase knowledge and improve services in this area. OJJDP, for example, has been active in the Federal Partnership for Children’s Mental Health, organized by the Center for Mental Health Services of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

A recognized gap in the continuum of services for juvenile offenders is the lack of mental health programming, particularly for youth in detention and secure corrections. The lack of aftercare or reentry programming for these incarcerated juveniles is also of particular concern. Although the lack of services may be most acute for juveniles in detention, secure corrections, and aftercare, OJJDP believes that the best strategy for closing these gaps is to develop a comprehensive model that addresses the mental health needs of youth at every point in the juvenile justice system.

To that end, OJJDP’s Research Division in FY 2000 initiated an effort to build on existing research and knowledge in the area of mental health and juvenile justice. This multiyear research and development effort will:

  • Review what is known about theory and best practices in this area.

  • Examine the prevalence of mental health problems and co-occurring substance abuse disorders in a sample of youth in the juvenile justice system.

  • Document the services available to meet the needs of this population.

  • Develop a model that incorporates existing theory and best practices to provide comprehensive mental health services to youth in the juvenile justice system.

The model developed under this initiative will subsequently be used in a demonstration and evaluation project that replicates and evaluates the model at several sites.

6 See Friedman, R.M., Katz-Leavy, J.W., Manderscheid, R.W., and Sandheimer, D.L. 1996. Prevalence of serious emotional disturbances in children and adolescents. In Mental Health, United States, edited by R.W. Manderscheid and M.A. Sonnerschein. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Center for Mental Health Services, pp. 71–89.


OJJDP Research 2000 OJJDP Report
May 2001