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