Delinquency Prevention Programs

his program promotes prosocial activities that can be offered in any setting, including school.

The Delinquency Prevention Program encompasses a range of activities and services for at-risk youth and juveniles who have had contact with the juvenile justice system. This program promotes prosocial activities that can be offered in any setting, including school. Suggested activities include tutoring and remedial education, work awareness or employability skills, health and mental health services, alcohol and substance abuse prevention, leadership development, or recreational services. This component is intended to encourage positive approaches to delinquency prevention that emphasize healthy social, physical, and mental development. Funding for this component is provided for a maximum of $200,000 per year to each SafeFutures site under Title V of the JJDP Act of 1974, as amended. Although not required by OJJDP, many demonstration communities included case management and counseling among the activities provided by delinquency prevention programs.

In addition to offering enrichment activities and other opportunities (e.g., jobs) for youth to engage in socially approved networks, much of the focus of this component is on strategies that involve prevention education or social skills development to promote positive changes in juveniles’ behavior. These activities are consistent with theoretical models that suggest individuals perform antisocially because they lack the necessary skills for prosocial behavior or because they have limited opportunities and have weak commitment to conformity (Leiber and Mahworr, 1995; Hirschi, 1969; Cloward and Ohlin, 1960). Several approaches consistent with delinquency prevention have been described under various SafeFutures components, such as afterschool programs or services for at-risk and delinquent girls; others are noted below.

Prevention education (focused on mitigating substance abuse, gang involvement, or violence, for example) is intended to provide youth with factual information and the skills to identify and resist risky situations. In general, substance abuse prevention education approaches that include training in resistance skills (i.e., skills for effectively resisting social pressure) and broader based life skills have been found effective, while approaches that emphasize just information dissemination, fear, appeals to morality, or self-esteem and interpersonal growth are largely ineffective (Sherman et al., 1997). Some gang and violence prevention programs teach interpersonal skills and incorporate cognitive-behavioral strategies that appear promising in achieving prevention objectives; however, more rigorous evaluation is needed to isolate critical elements correlated with success.

Skills development may include academic instruction, vocational education, or social skills training designed to facilitate positive peer interaction, anger management, or a prosocial work ethic. Comprehensive instructional programs that are delivered over long timeframes designed to reinforce social skills have been found to reduce delinquency if they focus on developing a range of competency skills, including self-control, stress management, responsible decisionmaking, techniques for effective problem solving, and enhanced communication (Sherman et al., 1997). However, programs that focus on improving employ-ability skills and job placement have generally not been successful in reducing delinquency, with the possible exception of the residential Job Corps approach (Sherman et al., 1997).

ost sites provided delinquency prevention programming through agencies used to provide other SafeFutures components.

Most sites provided delinquency prevention programming through agencies used to provide other SafeFutures components. In some cases, it is difficult to separate delinquency prevention programs/activities from those associated with other SafeFutures components. For example, the Imperial County Law Enforcement Team, created for SafeFutures, fits under the gang-free schools and communities component and the delinquency prevention program component, as does Seattle’s SafeFutures Youth Center (these programs are discussed in the section “Comprehensive Communitywide Approaches to Gang-Free Schools and Communities,”).

Imperial County and Fort Belknap developed innovative programs (which also incorporated elements of systems reform) that were supported through both the delinquency prevention program and serious, violent, and chronic juvenile offender program components. These programs involved graduated sanctions, a key element under SVCJO, but the sites believed these initiatives primarily addressed delinquency prevention because they served first-time or minor offenders, with the intent of preventing further or more serious delinquency. In addition, both programs served some youth who were not involved in the justice system.

Imperial County, CA. Imperial County established a peer court as a graduated sanctions option (part of the county’s Court Alternative Program) for first-time minor offenders, who participate on a voluntary basis (after admitting responsibility). Court sessions are held once per month during the school year, and four or more cases are heard per session. A juvenile court judge or referee presides over the court, with students serving as jurors, attorneys, and other court staff. Peers determine dispositions, which usually include requiring the offender to serve as a juror in future peer court sessions, in addition to sanctions such as community service (e.g., graffiti removal) and essays or letters of apology.

The peer court operates as a student club at Brawley Union High School (where it originated). The club has weekly meetings to prepare for hearings; volunteer attorneys and other court staff (e.g., bailiffs) assist the students who will take their roles in court. Club members (some of whom hope to pursue law careers) rotate the various roles (e.g., clerk, bailiff, juror, attorneys). Students participating in the club receive credit toward the school’s mandatory community service requirement. The court serves as a mechanism to involve/familiarize youth with the juvenile justice system and teaches participants about accountability—which contributes to the delinquency prevention aspect of the program. The peer court also can be viewed as developing job-related or leadership skills in youth.

Imperial County officials perceive the peer court as successful, and during year 3, it expanded to two additional target area communities (Calipatria and Niland). A previously existing peer mediation class in a Westmoreland school (a fourth target area) also has begun sending students to participate in the court. Activities preparatory to hearings are conducted at each site, but youth are bused to Brawley for court procedures. Staff report that mixing youth from all the schools in this forum has encouraged positive competition. The peer court is an example of systems reform: it added a new form of graduated sanction to the juvenile justice system, and it involves collaboration between various segments of the juvenile justice and school systems.

Fort Belknap, MT. The Tribal Ranch program in Fort Belknap was originally intended to provide job, entrepreneurial, and life skills to at-risk youth through work experience at the Tribal Ranch. At the request of court staff, it was refocused to serve as a graduated sanction program for youth on probation who are sentenced to community service (generally first offenders). It also serves nonoffender youth who participate on a voluntary basis. Youth receive instruction in, and perform, a variety of ranch chores (a major form of employment/business in this rural setting) and receive informal counseling from SafeFutures staff who operate the program.

everal communities offered multiple delinquency prevention activities, including case management and counseling, in the context of one program.

Several communities offered multiple delinquency prevention activities, including case management and counseling, in the context of one program. This occurred in the three sites using school-based service delivery (Contra Costa County, Imperial County, and St. Louis). These programs provided a variety of activities, such as tutoring/academic assistance, life/leadership skills training, anger management or mediation skills training, recreation, and support groups of various kinds. Some of their activities were provided as afterschool programs. These programs were intended to address the needs of youth and the schools in which the programs were located. Thus, the nature of these programs varied across schools and also varied over time within a school.

Some programs focused on developing leadership skills as an alternative to delinquency.

Boston, MA. Boston uses peer leadership in some of its delinquency prevention programming. In one such program, SafeFutures provides funds to train and provide stipends for peer leaders who are assigned to three community centers located in public housing facilities. Although activities vary at each center, the peer leaders perform functions such as helping youth with homework, facilitating workshops, leading “rap sessions,” identifying youth issues, coordinating field trips, and so on. Another peer leadership effort, the Youth Advisory Board (YAB), is used as a mechanism for obtaining youth input to SafeFutures decisionmaking and as a leadership development program. The latter function is intended to encourage youth to serve as peer trainers, public speakers, and ambassadors for youth in the community and to provide informal employment readiness and life skills training. Although YAB was operational during the first year of the initiative, the administering agency was changed in years 2 and 3, and the program has experienced difficulty in retaining active membership in YAB.

As noted previously, delinquency prevention activities were often included in programs supported by other components; some of these are discussed in following sections.


Comprehensive Responses to Youth At Risk:
Interim Findings From the SafeFutures Initiative
OJJDP Summary November 2000