Social Policy Report
Evidence-Based Interventions for Juvenile Offenders and Juvenile Justice Policies that Support Them
Scott W. Henggeler & Sonja K. Schoenwald
Family Services Research Center Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences Medical University of South Carolina
n a context where more than 1,000,000American adolescents are processed by juvenile courts annually and approximately 160,000 are sent to residential placements, this paper examines “what works” and “what doesn’t work” in reducing the criminal behavior of juvenile offenders and presents examples of government initiatives that have successfully promoted the adoption, implementation, and sustainability of evidence-based interventionsfor juvenile offenders. In general, the vast majority of current juvenile justice services has little empirical support or exacerbates antisocial behavior. These include processing by the juvenile justice system (e.g., probation), juvenile transfer laws, surveillance, shock incarceration, and residential placements (e.g., boot camps, group homes, incarceration). On the other hand, several effectivetreatment programs have been validated in rigorous research. Effective programs address key risk factors (e.g., improving family functioning, decreasing association with deviant peers), are rehabilitative in nature, use behavioral interventions within the youth’s natural environment, are well specified, and include intensive support for intervention fidelity. Although only 5% of eligible high-riskoffenders are treated with an evidence-based intervention annually, inroads to the larger scale use of evidence-based treatments have been made in recent years through federal (e.g., Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration) and state (e.g., Washington, Ohio, Connecticut, Florida) policy initiatives. Based on our experiencetransporting an evidence-based treatment within the context of these initiatives, recommendations are made to facilitate stakeholder efforts to improve the quality and effectiveness of rehabilitative services available to juvenile offenders.
Social Policy Report
Volume 25, Number 1 | 2011 ISSN 1075-7031
From the Editors
In this issue of Social Policy Report, Henggeler andSchoenwald succinctly summarize the research regarding what works—and what doesn’t—in treating juvenile offenders. The list of ineffective interventions is disheartening, particularly because of their common use. Yet the strong evidence in support of some community-based interventions such as multisystemic therapy (MST) and the successful implementation of these interventions is suggestive of ashift in policy and practice that supports positive outcomes for youth offenders. Henggeler and Schoenwald use their experiences with MST to explore important issues regarding the uptake of an evidence-based practice in a decision-making context that considers multiple factors, only one of which is empirical evidence of effectiveness. They offer insightful guidance about the complexities inestablishing an intervention’s effectiveness, implementing it with fidelity, and collaborating with various stakeholders to bridge the science-practice gap. Peter Panzarella, an administrator from the Connecticut Department of Children and Families, describes the complexities in implementing evidence-based practices at the state level and working with stakeholders from multiple service systems. SamanthaHarvell notes in her commentary that the zeitgeist seems right for expanding evidence-based practices in juvenile justice. With limited resources and an increasing appreciation of evidence-based practices, policymakers at all levels—federal, state, and local—are more closely examining interventions for juvenile offenders. Scott Henggeler and Sonja Schoenwald’s review of research regarding...