Volume 1, Issue 2 • Spring 2012

Table of Contents


General Strain Predictors of Arrest History Among Homeless Youths from Four United States Cities

Students’ Perceptions of School Learning Climate in a Rural Juvenile Detention Educational Facility

Transitions of Truants: Community Truancy Board as a Turning Point in the Lives of Adolescents

Family Warmth and Delinquency among Mexican American and White Youth: Detailing the Causal Variables

Polygraph Testing for Juveniles in Treatment for Sexual Behavior Problems: An Exploratory Study

The 10-Question Tool: A Novel Screening Instrument for Runaway Youth

Applying a Developmental Lens to Juvenile Reentry and Reintegration

Commentary: Assessing Client Outcomes in Youth Justice Services: Current Status and Future Directions

Applying a Develpmental Lens to Juvenile Reentry and Reintegration1

William H. Barton and G. Roger Jarjoura
Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis

André B. Rosay
University of Alaska Anchorage

William H. Barton, Indiana University School of Social Work; G. Roger Jajoura, Indiana University School of Public and Environmental Affairs; André B. Rosay, Justice Center, University of Alaska Anchorage.

Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to: William H. Barton, Indiana University School of Social Work, Indianapolis, IN 46202; E-mail: wbarton@iupui.edu

Key Words: adolescent development, aftercare, juvenile justice, reentry, reintegration

1An earlier version of this paper was presented at the Annual Meeting of the American Society of Criminology in San Francisco, November, 2010.


Reentry is a crucial, but underdeveloped, component of the juvenile justice system. Altschuler and Armstrong’s Intensive Aftercare Program model (Altschuler & Armstrong 1994a; 1994b) is arguably the most theoretically sound approach to juvenile reentry, yet evaluations of the Intensive Aftercare Program have not produced compelling evidence of effectiveness. We often judge the effectiveness of a reentry program exclusively in terms of recidivism and/or reincarceration. Juvenile reentry, however, is about preparing youths for their adult lives, and programs should be designed with more explicit attention to developmental goals in addition to recidivism reduction. Building upon the pioneering work of Altschuler and Armstrong (1994a; 1994b), this paper makes a case that the use of a developmental lens can improve the effectiveness of juvenile reentry through: 1) minor amendments to the Intensive Aftercare Program model, 2) systematic improvements in implementation, and 3) more comprehensive evaluation strategies.


The volume of individuals returning from incarceration each year, estimated at more than 700,000 adults (Guerino, Harrison, & Sabol, 2011) and more than 80,000 juveniles (Sickmund, 2010), has placed enormous burdens on communities to find ways to effectively reintegrate ex-offenders into society. Evidence suggests that more than 50% of juveniles are rearrested within three years or less (Howell, 2003; Krisberg & Howell, 1998; Minor, Wells, & Angel, 2008; Snyder & Sickmund, 2006; Trulson, Marquart, Mullings, & Caeti, 2005). These trends and challenges have spurred recent interest in the subject of offender reentry among policy makers and researchers. The U. S. Department of Justice has launched several major initiatives to fund adult and juvenile reentry programs throughout the country, including “Going Home” and the “Serious and Violent Offender Reentry Initiative” (Lattimore et al., 2004; U. S. Department of Justice, n.d.).

Many juvenile reentry programs have drawn upon the Intensive Aftercare Program model developed in the late 1980s and early 1990s by Altschuler and Armstrong (1994a; 1994b; 2004). This model, to be described in some detail later in this paper, is well grounded theoretically, but efforts to demonstrate its effectiveness have produced mixed or muted results. The National Council on Crime and Delinquency (NCCD) evaluated the Intensive Aftercare Program model in three pilot sites (Denver, Colorado; Las Vegas, Nevada; and Norfolk, Virginia) over a five-year period, using an experimental design with random assignment to an Intensive Aftercare Program and a control group in each site (Wiebush, Wagner, McNulty, Wang, & Le, 2005). NCCD researchers found that recidivism rates were high for juveniles in both the Intensive Aftercare Program and the control groups; between 50% and 60% were arrested for felony offenses and between 80% and 85% were arrested for some type of offense within five years of study completion (Wiebush et al., 2005).

Subsequently, the Boys & Girls Clubs of America developed a variant of the Intensive Aftercare Program called Targeted Reentry. Targeted Reentry connected incarcerated youths to Boys & Girls Clubs inside juvenile correctional facilities; staff from partnering community Boys & Girls Clubs provided continuous case management. A quasi-experimental evaluation of Targeted Reentry in four sites found overall recidivism rates much lower than those in the NCCD evaluation—between 23% and 40% were arrested for any new offense during the first 12 months following their release—but the comparison groups’ outcomes were similar to or more favorable than those of the Targted Reentry groups (Barton, Jarjoura, & Rosay, 2008). A few evaluations of other juvenile reentry programs have had somewhat more positive results (e.g., Aos, 2004) with mentoring emerging as a promising strategy (Jarjoura, 2004), yet evidence for the effectiveness of juvenile reentry programs remains scant.

One possible interpretation of the lack of strong evidence for effectiveness could be that the Intensive Aftercare Program model simply does not work. In our view, such a conclusion would be premature, amounting to the proverbial discarding of the baby with the bathwater. Alternatively, one could argue that implementation of the Intensive Aftercare Program and similar reentry approaches has been spotty and/or that methodological challenges in evaluating these programs to date limit the strength of results. We propose that both of these issues are primarily responsible for the lack of documented effectiveness, and that the Intensive Aftercare Program model could benefit from some minor adjustments as well.

Common wisdom suggests that successful implementation of innovations requires both a sound technical way and considerable political will. We contend that without greater attention to both of these components, juvenile reentry efforts will continue to underachieve. In addition, for accountability, evaluation of such efforts must track details of implementation and must closely follow the logic models of such programs. The Intensive Aftercare Program model incorporates a range of ecological factors encompassing individuals, families, and communities. Recidivism is a necessary marker of success, but is insufficient alone unless linked to intermediate outcomes theoretically hypothesized to affect behavior. Along these lines, we propose that a developmental lens can enhance juvenile reentry programs in three ways, by providing:

  1. A more comprehensive theoretical model (the technical way), building upon the Intensive Aftercare Program model but with more explicit incorporation of the principles of positive youth development;
  2. A detailed blueprint for implementation, again building upon but extending the Intensive Aftercare Program model by systematically transforming the culture of juvenile reentry programming into one that supports strength-based practices focused on positive youth development (the political will); and
  3. A more comprehensive strategy for evaluation that: a) carefully monitors implementation and b) incorporates elements of positive youth development in the chain of outcomes to be tracked (the accountability mechanism).

Through its case management approach, the Intensive Aftercare Program model implicitly addresses many of the life domains relevant to adolescent development, such as physical and mental health, family and peer relationships, education, employment readiness, and use of leisure time. More recent advances in knowledge about adolescent development, however, provide an opportunity to improve the fit between reentry (and other juvenile justice) programming and positive youth development. Accordingly, the next section presents a brief overview of the developmental tasks of adolescence, and considers the implications of juvenile justice system involvement for the likelihood of accomplishing those tasks. The subsequent section reviews the Intensive Aftercare Program model, followed by a discussion of the three proposed enhancements: 1) “friendly amendments” to the Intensive Aftercare Program model to more clearly address the developmental tasks of adolescence; 2) recommendations for creating the conditions for successful implementation and sustainability; and 3) a more holistic framework for the evaluation of juvenile reentry programs.

The Tasks of Adolescent Development

Dahl provides perhaps the best definition of adolescence: “that awkward period between sexual maturation and the attainment of adult roles and responsibilities” (2004, p. 9). According to this definition, adolescence begins with biological markers (e.g., puberty), usually around the age of 12 or 13, and ends with the development of social roles. Specific ages denote society’s recognition of the attainment of those roles (e.g., the differing ages for eligibility to drive a car, get married, vote, enter military service, purchase alcohol, or rent a car), but individuals’ exit from adolescence varies greatly. Recent evidence suggests that the human brain is not fully developed until the mid-20s (Blakemore & Choudhury, 2006; Coalition for Juvenile Justice, 2006; Dahl, 2004; Weinberger, Elvevag, & Giedd, 2005).

During adolescence, individuals acquire great physical strength, are capable of rapid cognitive learning, and exhibit social resilience (Dahl, 2004). They also, however, are at great risk, with high morbidity and mortality rates (suicide and homicide), and a propensity for engaging in risky behaviors (Dahl, 2004). Aspects of adolescent brain development, in particular, exacerbate these risks. The frontal lobe, including the prefrontal cortex (that part of the brain responsible for rational decision-making), is not fully formed (Coalition for Juvenile Justice, 2006). Moreover, the limbic system is still developing and dopamine levels are fluctuating, producing emotional volatility (Coalition for Juvenile Justice, 2006). As a result of these developmental phenomena, adolescents’ decisions are often based on emotional impulses, especially under conditions of high stimulation or anxiety. Recent research has also documented that risky behaviors increase when adolescents are around their peers and adults are not available to provide supervision (Romer, 2010).

Moreover, in the developing frontal lobe, gray matter is increasing, then decreasing, with the remaining synapses coated by myelin, which speeds up communication (Blakemore & Choudhury, 2006). In lay terms, portions of the brain that are not used atrophy while those that are used become more efficient and entrenched. Patterns of thought and behavior that are reinforced in adolescence become more stable parts of the individual’s adult functioning. For the purposes of the present paper, this has two implications: 1) adolescents are malleable, and thus effective supports and opportunities can facilitate positive development; and 2) what happens to adolescents strongly affects the way they will emerge in adulthood, for better or worse; the absence of positive influences may lead to entrenched patterns of problematic behaviors.

In the best case scenario, adolescents are surrounded by networks of supports and opportunities that foster positive developmental outcomes. Supports include strong families and other positive adult role models; sufficient resources to cover basic needs such as housing, food, and health; as well as neighborhood and community resources to provide effective education and opportunities for engagement. With a base of such support, youths are able to pursue opportunities for cognitive growth, skill development, social connectedness, creative expression, and the setting of ambitious but attainable long-term goals for a productive and satisfying adulthood. Positive youth development is a term that encompasses this constellation of supports and opportunities promoting positive life outcomes.

The literature contains many models of positive youth development. Pittman and Irby (1996) define the four tasks of adolescent development in terms of “4 Cs”: competence, confidence, character, and connections, to which Benson and Pittman (2001) add a fifth C, contributions. Connell, Gambone, and Smith (2001) prefer to describe the tasks of adolescent development as learning to be productive, learning to connect, and learning to navigate. Still others describe positive youth development as acquiring a sense of competency, usefulness, belonging, and influence (Boys & Girls Clubs of America, 2000). The Search Institute (Scales & Leffert, 1999) defines youth development in terms of 40 social and developmental assets that encompass eight dimensions. Levine (2005) lays out twelve growth processes connected to the preparation of adolescents for their adult work life. Regardless of the acronym or specific terms, all positive youth development frameworks stress a combination of attributes, skills, and relationships related to healthy, productive, and satisfying outcomes in adulthood.

Settings conducive to positive youth development are characterized by three main elements: 1) goals that include promoting competency building and positive connections with adults, peers, and community institutions; 2) a supportive and empowering environment that includes high expectations for positive behavior; and 3) activities that include opportunities to build skills, real and challenging experiences, and exposure to new social and cultural influences (Roth & Brooks-Gunn, 2003). The education and skill training in most juvenile justice settings is limited, the environment is typically control-oriented rather than supportive and empowering, and the activities are highly circumscribed.

Youths involved in the juvenile justice system clearly do not experience the best case scenario described above. Even prior to their involvement in the system, most of these youths face an array of risks that create challenges to positive developmental outcomes (Hawkins et al., 2000; Howell, 2003; Lipsey & Derzon, 1998; Office of the Surgeon General, 2001; Stouthamer-Loeber, Loeber, Wei, Farrington, & Wikström, 2002; Williams, Ayers, Van Dorn, & Arthur, 2004). The mere presence of risks, however, does not doom these youths to negative long-term outcomes. Since adolescents are still malleable, it is not too late to reduce risks and provide appropriate supports and opportunities to promote a positive long-term developmental trajectory.

Viewed through the lens of positive youth development, the traditional juvenile justice system either disrupts the course of positive development (e.g., via labeling, forcing association with delinquent peers, interrupting school or family life, and/or foreclosing future opportunities) or, more frequently, fails to provide the conditions for positive youth development for youths whose trajectories are already disrupted. Several recent studies document the iatrogenic effect of involvement with the juvenile justice system, with the damage increasing with each level of penetration into the system (Feld, 1991; Frazier & Bishop, 1985; Frazier & Cochran, 1986; Gatti, Tremblay, & Vitaro, 2009; Holman & Ziedenberg, 2006; Lipsey, 1992; Loeber & Farrington, 1998; Loughran et al., 2009). Recognizing that incarcerated youths, having penetrated furthest into the system, are the least likely to be prepared for positive integration into the community, reentry represents the last chance to reverse that negative trajectory.

Summary of the Intensive Aftercare Program Model

Altschuler and Armstrong’s (1994a; 1994b) Intensive Aftercare Program model is based on an integration of strain (e.g., Agnew, 1992), social learning (e.g., Akers, 1985), and control (e.g., Hirschi, 1969) theories. The Intensive Aftercare Program requires:

Throughout, the plan and its implementation are intended to strike a balance between community restraint (e.g., surveillance) and needs-based services (Gies, 2003). In addition to identifying and brokering community services as indicated, the implementation plan must include graduated incentives and sanctions to encourage prosocial behavior and to respond to rule violations. As the youth moves through the three phases, the role of the juvenile justice system professionals gradually diminishes, replaced by the increasing involvement of formal and informal community supports.

Using a Developmental Lens to Enhance Juvenile Reentry

As mentioned above, evaluations of the Intensive Aftercare Program model have not provided compelling evidence of effectiveness. Given the model’s theoretical richness, detailed prescriptions for case management and collaboration, and focus on addressing criminogenic needs, one may well ask why the evidence is not more supportive. As is always the case with evaluations, several explanations for disappointing results exist. While it is possible that the model itself is flawed, such results could also follow from poor evaluation design or less than optimal program implementation. The NCCD study design was relatively strong (Wiebush et al., 2005), the Targeted Reentry evaluation less so (Barton et al., 2008). But the process evaluations of both studies highlight the difficulties sites experienced in implementing the Intensive Aftercare Program model. It is most likely that the explanation lies in a combination of all three sources—the model, its implementation, and the evaluation designs, with the primary contribution being the implementation limitations.

Amendments to the Intensive Aftercare Program Model

Perhaps the most important contributions of the Intensive Aftercare Program model have been its prescriptions for collaboration and continuity. The major amendments we propose to the Intensive Aftercare Program model consist of elaborations of its assessment, planning, and case management components. In light of the previous discussion of the tasks of adolescent development, all juvenile justice programming, and reentry in particular, might benefit from an explicit acknowledgement of these tasks and an emphasis on providing the supports and opportunities youths need to accomplish those tasks. The Intensive Aftercare Program’s intent to apply individualized assessments and corresponding intervention plans is on the right track. Such assessments necessarily include identifying risks and needs—youths in the juvenile justice system do pose varying levels of risk to public safety and possess a range of needs that should be addressed. But complete assessments must include systematic attention to youths’ strengths and interests, and the plans must build upon these to truly assist youths in getting on a trajectory toward positive life outcomes.

Many juvenile justice agencies and programs use assessments derived from theories of criminogenic risks and needs (Andrews et al., 1990); that is, factors that research has shown are correlated with offending behaviors. Examples include the Youth Level of Services/Case Management Inventory (YLS/CMI) (Hoge & Andrews, 1996), the Washington State Juvenile Court Assessment (Barnoski, 2004), and the Oregon JCP Assessment (NPC Research, 2006). These instruments identify risks to be controlled or reduced through supervision, custody level, or interventions, and needs to be addressed in the treatment plan through referrals to specialized services. When used well, these assessments can provide information that can guide individualized intervention plans. Recent versions include some coverage of strengths, but typically as an afterthought, and seldom do the strengths inform case planning in any meaningful way.

Scholars and practitioners have increasingly called for the comprehensive, intentional incorporation of positive youth development concepts into juvenile justice policies and programs in general (Barton, 2004; Butts, Mayer, & Ruth, 2005; Frabutt, DiLuca, & Graves, 2008; Schwarz, 2004; Scott & Steinberg, 2008) and into reentry programming in particular (Barton, 2006; DiLuca et al., 2007; Frabutt et al., 2008). Butts, Bazemore, and Meroe (2010) have recently described a model of “Positive Youth Justice” that provides a helpful framework for reentry assessment and intervention planning. Adapting the principles of positive youth development to juvenile justice, Butts et al. propose:

… 12 key components depicted as a 2 by 6 matrix. Each cell in the matrix represents the interaction of two key assets needed by all youths: (1) learning/doing, and (2) attaching/belonging. Each asset should be developed within the context of six separate life domains (work, education, relationships, community, health, and creativity) (p. 7).

These components resemble the life domains described by Altschuler and Armstrong (1994a; 1994b), but with an aim toward enhancing positive development rather than controlling deviance. To effectively develop individualized intervention plans in the spirit of Positive Youth Justice, it is necessary to assess strengths as well as risks and needs, and to adopt a strength-based approach to intervention planning and case management.

In addition to risk and needs assessments such as those noted above, there are instruments that staff can use to provide richer assessments of strengths, including the Behavioral and Emotional Rating Scale (BERS; Epstein & Sharma, 1998), Child and Adolescent Needs and Strengths (CANS; Lyons, Griffin, Fazio, & Lyons, 1999), and the Youth Competency Assessment (YCA; Mackin, Weller, Tarte, & Nissen, 2005; Nissen, Mackin, Weller, & Tarte, 2005). Not only do these instruments encourage staff to create truly individualized intervention plans, but the process of administering the assessment also enables staff to develop stronger relationships with the youths, and such relationships are at the heart of producing positive change (Barton & Butts, 2008).

The combination of risk, needs, and strength assessments can provide information relevant to the Positive Youth Justice components. Staff can use the Positive Youth Justice matrix described above to systematically identify life domains requiring attention. These instruments enable staff to uncover information about youths’ (and families’) strengths, interests, hopes, and dreams. To make optimal use of this information, case managers should engage the collaborative reentry team, especially the youth and family members, in identifying intervention target priorities that build upon existing strengths and assets while creating supports and opportunities for the development of new ones. Rather than just focusing on what youths cannot do, or cannot do well, or on instituting surveillance and sanctions to control undesirable behaviors, strength-based practice takes advantage of what youths can do or want to learn, and directs them toward setting positive goals. This does not mean that the plan ignores problem areas, but rather frames them as obstacles to overcome in order to pursue the positive goals.

It is important to consider why youths resist the temptations to get involved in delinquent behaviors. For some, they are so well supervised by adults that they do not have the opportunity to take part in delinquency. For others, the allure of delinquent activities is tempered by the risks they represent when youths have committed to prosocial goals or believe some of their personal relationships may be jeopardized (Hirschi, 1969). Reentry programs should devote substantial attention to positive youth development strategies that strengthen the positive and meaningful relationships for these youths and that anchor them to a set of goals that inspire them to stay out of trouble.

For example, one youth in a state juvenile correctional facility mentioned an interest in wrestling, identified a middle school wrestling coach as an important positive influence, and expressed disappointment that he had let this coach down by getting into trouble. A creative reentry case plan might invite this coach to be a member of the team and to permit the youth to serve as an assistant coach during the step-down phase of reentry intervention. Such a plan would build upon the youth’s skills and interests, connect him to a caring adult, and provide him with an opportunity to make a contribution to others. In this example, a strength-based approach to assessment and planning with developmental tasks in mind uses a positive youth development framework focusing on enhancing supports and opportunities for positive developmental outcomes.

Strength-based practice, as illustrated in the example above, is somewhat alien to most juvenile justice settings. In a strength-based practice context, team members are truly collaborators. Traditional juvenile justice practice is more power-oriented; the staff and professionals act as authorities who set the conditions a youth must follow. A plan that engages the youth and family and focuses on developing assets is quite different from one that imposes conditions such as curfews, restrictions on movement, and reporting to the probation office, or that mandates general requirements, such as attending school regularly and avoiding contact with delinquent peers. For example, consider the requirement to attend school. Suppose that a youth has not been attending school regularly. A strength-based assessment would explore, among other things: the details of the youth’s experiences in school; what aspects of school the youth likes and doesn’t like; how the parents feel about the school and education in general, as well as what kind of support and supervision they can provide to assure attendance; what teachers or other adults in the school the youth trusts and likes; and how these adults could be engaged to help the youth want to attend and succeed in school. The plan that would emerge as a result of such an assessment would lay out a strategy, involving roles for many members of the reentry team, with concrete steps designed to achieve the outcome of the youth attending school regularly.

The Intensive Aftercare Program model prescribes the use of good risk and needs assessments for the purpose of developing individualized case management strategies (Altschuler & Armstrong, 2004). The Intensive Aftercare Program reference guide does mention that case managers should consider strengths in the context of assessment and treatment planning, but offers little explicit guidance in precisely how to do that (Altschuler & Armstrong, 2004). The Boys & Girls Clubs of America’s Targeted Reentry version of the Intensive Aftercare Program, mentioned previously (Barton et al., 2008), did include youth interests as an element for consideration in case planning. However, the Targeted Reentry case managers received no detailed training in assessing strengths or developing strength-based interventions. We argue that explicitly adding the strength-based, positive youth development perspective and thoroughly training staff in its implementation may provide a crucial element toward increasing the effectiveness of juvenile reentry practices. As should also be apparent from the discussion in this section, actual implementation of such a revised model in the context of juvenile justice is replete with challenges.

Addressing Implementation Challenges

Major implementation challenges for an Intensive Aftercare Program or its amended model include effective leadership; sustainable collaboration among juvenile justice and community stakeholders; effective, individualized case management; and strong quality control mechanisms. These and other challenges are discussed at greater length in Barton et al. (2008), but will be discussed briefly below.

Leadership means more than an endorsement from agency administration. Successful implementation requires what Bardach (1977) has termed a “fixer,” someone who effectively communicates the vision, has credibility among stakeholders, and is able to intervene to troubleshoot and keep implementation on track. Too often, it seems that the agency charged with the case management role, usually probation, parole, or a contract provider, assumes sole responsibility for implementation. However, the Intensive Aftercare Program model depends upon a true collaboration among the agencies responsible for incarceration, community supervision, and the provision of other relevant services in the community. Again, leadership plays a vital role in establishing, nurturing, and sustaining such collaborations.

Effective, individualized case management incorporating strength-based, positive youth development principles requires a level of skill and creativity that exceeds what is usually found in the caliber of staff available for such positions at typical pay levels. Furthermore, as discussed above, these attributes are relatively foreign to the traditional culture of juvenile justice (Hemmelgarn, Glisson, & James, 2006). In addition to endorsement from leadership, this form of case management practice requires extensive training in both the theory and practice of strength-based positive youth development, continual reinforcement through supervision, and support through personnel decisions such as hiring and promotion.

While daunting to contemplate, all of these implementation challenges must be met simultaneously for sustained, effective juvenile reentry—or, for that matter, any other aspect of the juvenile justice system—to be successful. To do so requires a systematic transformation of the juvenile correctional culture, policies, and practices. Without such a transformation, juvenile reentry becomes just another “program du jour,” which the system will adapt to its existing culture with as little comprehensive change as possible. The program will exist only as long as special funding is available, and then fade into the archives of failed innovation attempts while the system returns to its former practices. How, then, can the culture be changed?

Change begins with a vision, one supported by evidence or at least a plausible, testable theory of change. Such a vision is contained in the notion of Positive Youth Justice (Butts et al., 2010) mentioned previously. Then, the vision must be effectively communicated to key decision makers in the juvenile justice system and the broader community, because both must partner to make the vision a reality. Juvenile reentry must be seen not just as a component of the juvenile justice system but as a component of community sustainability.

The communicator of the vision is nearly as important as what is being communicated, and the best ambassadors are persons, similar to local stakeholders, who have experienced success with aspects of the vision in their own communities. That is, communities wishing to embark upon cultural transformation should engage trainers with credibility to key stakeholders, such as judges, probation officers, law enforcement personnel, and community leaders from sites where positive youth development-oriented juvenile justice programs exist. While few sites can be said to operate fully and explicitly from a Positive Youth Justice framework today, good candidates for such trainers include individuals from jurisdictions that have had success with the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative (JDAI) (Mendel, 2009) or from some progressive probation departments and juvenile correctional settings (Barton & Butts, 2008).

The key decisionmakers from both the juvenile justice system and the broader community, then, must make a commitment to change, hold themselves and each other accountable to that commitment, and communicate that commitment down the line. Bureaucracies live by procedural details, so such details must be made congruent with the new paradigm. For example, systems need to modify assessment forms, case planning documents, and progress report formats to reflect the strength-based orientation and Positive Youth Justice matrix of assets and domains. Staff hiring, training, and supervision practices need to incorporate and emphasize these elements as well. Transformation does not occur instantaneously, but if pursued consistently, will emerge over the course of a few years. Eventually, the new paradigm will become the new “business as usual.”

It is critical that the community-based components of a juvenile reentry initiative connect youths with comprehensive support, either as a result of direct efforts of the service providers assigned to the case, or as a result of the connections to partner organizations and community volunteers. For instance, Butts et al. (2010) propose six key practice domains in their Positive Youth Justice model. These domains include work and education, as is commonly attended to in reentry programs. Yet, Butts et al. (2010) go beyond these two domains to emphasize four other practice domains that are often neglected in juvenile reentry. They recommend deliberate attention to relationships, including the establishment and maintenance of healthy boundaries and supportive family relationships, communication skills, and conflict resolution. Health is another domain to which programs should pay particular attention, making efforts, for example, to build positive habits related to physical activity, diet, sexuality, and behavioral health (including substance use). Finally, Butts et al. (2010) encourage programs to find ways to support the involvement of the youths in creative activities, including all forms of arts and personal expression.

With regard to the role that youths will play in the community, Butts et al. (2010) recommend that programs focus on efforts at civic engagement, service, personal responsibility, and even community leadership. Reentry programs also are advised to go beyond basic interventions tied to general outcomes such as finding a job. Rather, as Levine (2005) proposes, it is important to prepare youths for success in their adult work life (i.e., a career that will allow them to support a family). To that end, Levine spells out a number of “soft skills” that adults must master for the greatest degree of success. This includes such skills as awareness of strengths and weaknesses, goal setting and planning, motivation, optimism for the future, comprehension and interpretation of expectations, evaluative thinking, organization, prioritizing, delaying gratification, communication skills (oral and written), impression management, and healthy coping strategies.

Developing Holistic and Theory-Driven Evaluation Strategies

Evaluators of juvenile reentry programs face numerous challenges – logistically, methodologically, and theoretically. Some of these are common to the evaluations of any relatively long-term program involving multiple stakeholders, many of whom may change during the course of the study. In addition, evaluations involving children in the juvenile justice system rightly face intense scrutiny by Institutional Review Boards, but sometimes this prevents evaluators from having direct contact with the youths, instead relying upon de-identified case data supplied by program providers. When that happens, evaluators have little control over the validity and reliability of the data, and attrition further limits the collection of complete data. Methodologically, identifying a strong control or comparison group can be difficult. Some jurisdictions may not be large enough to produce enough reentry cases to populate both a new reentry program and control group within a reasonable period of time. Others may resist the idea of denying the new program to any current cases, in which case a control jurisdiction or retrospective case sample may be necessary for comparison purposes.

The most serious challenges, however, are theoretical. Evaluations of juvenile justice programs typically rely upon one or more measures of recidivism as the only important outcome. This is understandable, in that the overarching purpose of such programming is to prevent or reduce future offending. Evaluators might alter the definition of criminal justice outcomes from recidivism to desistance; that is, the cessation of offending. Program evaluations that focus on recidivism tend to simply examine whether or not youths fail (and, in some cases, how long it takes them to fail). Program evaluations that focus on desistance take a more developmental approach. These recognize that desistance is a process and that as youths gain assets and become more resilient, they become increasingly less likely to recidivate. They may still recidivate, but they are slowly headed on a trajectory of desistance. Even improved reentry programming may not dramatically reduce short-term or dichotomous outcomes. However, with a developmental lens, we may see more gradual, incremental, long-term changes.

Another problem with focusing solely upon recidivism outcomes is that the essence of the programming becomes an afterthought; it doesn’t seem to matter what is done as long as recidivism is reduced. If the results are less than stellar, however, one is left not knowing why a program failed to reduce recidivism. Was it because of incorrect program assumptions or poor implementation of sound program assumptions? Evaluating program implementation (the specific interventions actually delivered, with what intensity, for how long, with what degree of fidelity to the program model, and so on) as well as outcomes can help answer this question. Evaluations of programs specifically addressing criminogenic risks and needs can be further strengthened by including as intermediate outcomes measures of the levels of such risks and needs prior to and following intervention.

Anthony, Alter, and Jenson (2009) have proposed a clear model for evaluating risk and resilience-based programming for youths. This model explicitly guides interventions and their evaluations within the ecological elements of the risk and resilience framework (Jenson & Fraser, 2011). Using a community-based, after-school program for high-risk youths as an example, Anthony et al. (2009) designed the intervention to enhance the protective factors of developing relationships with caring adults, increasing academic skills, fostering knowledge of positive norms and values, and providing supervised activities for youths during the otherwise unsupervised summer months. The evaluation included measures of intermediate outcomes based upon positive youth development domains of competence, confidence, character, and connection (Lerner, Fisher, & Weinberg, 2000). Interestingly, Anthony et al. (2009) framed self-reported indicators of anti-social behavior as one of the indicators of character rather than as an ultimate outcome of delinquency. Long-term outcomes included economic and personal self-sufficiency (Anthony et al., 2009).

As argued above, juvenile reentry program theory can expand beyond criminogenic risks and needs to include positive youth development concepts based on the Butts et al. (2010) Positive Youth Justice matrix, and evaluations could follow an approach similar to that of Anthony et al. (2009). Assuming that the individualized assessment of strengths, risks, and needs uses the Positive Youth Justice matrix, the case plan created collaboratively by the reentry team should contain specific strategies to build upon existing strengths, develop new strengths, meet needs, and control risks in one or more of the cells of the matrix. Along with the action steps in the plan, the reentry team should specify indicators of success for each. For example, suppose that an individual youth has an interest in automobiles, lacks positive adult role models, and could benefit from structured activity after school. Perhaps the plan could include enlisting the support of a local auto repair shop to provide the youth with an opportunity to learn about engine repair and develop skills for two or three hours a few afternoons a week. Success indicators could include measures of the youth’s knowledge and skills regarding engine repair as well as the extent to which a positive relationship developed between the youth and the adults in the shop. A longer term outcome might be subsequent employment in the field of auto repair. One can imagine a range of such scenarios involving the Positive Youth Justice core assets (learning/doing and attaching/belonging) and life domains (work, education, relationships, community, health, and creativity) (Butts et al., 2010).

A comprehensive evaluation strategy, then, would examine case records to track the fidelity of implementation of the assessment and case planning approach, documenting the extent to which the assessment included strengths as well as risks and needs, the involvement of the youth and collaborative partners in intervention planning, and the inclusion of strengths-related information in the intervention plan. Then, the evaluation would track the individualized chain of outcomes, including the reduction or buffering of risk factors, enhancement of protective factors, and effects on short- and longer-term behavioral outcomes. Recall the example of the youth interested in wrestling. In this case, the evaluation would document the use of the assessment tools that elicited the information about the youth’s interests. Case records would confirm the addition of the wrestling coach to the reentry team and subsequent occasions when the youth participated as an assistant coach during the step-down phase. Interviews with the youth and the coach (as well as with other team members) could provide an assessment of the relationship between them and of the youth’s sense of competence in performing the positive role of assistant coach. Other data sources could provide information about relevant behavioral outcomes such as educational accomplishments, occupational goals, and, of course, any subsequent law violations.

Summary and Recommendations

Despite nearly three decades of efforts to deliver intensive, collaborative juvenile reentry services derived from the carefully developed Intensive Aftercare Program model, the research literature documents few, if any, highly successful efforts. In this paper, we have attempted to show that, rather than concluding that the Intensive Aftercare Program model simply does not work and should be abandoned, altering the traditional juvenile justice culture by adopting a developmental lens can produce theoretical enhancements, implementation strategies, and evaluation approaches that may strengthen juvenile reentry programming and lead to greater evidence of effectiveness.

In particular, the Intensive Aftercare Program service delivery model can be amended to more explicitly include elements of positive youth development and to emphasize a strength-based approach. For such a model to succeed, stakeholders must be committed to addressing the challenges of implementation, including effective and sustained leadership, incorporation of the intervention framework into the bureaucratic workings of the host agency, collaboration among agencies, and attention to quality control mechanisms. Finally, evaluators should adopt a theory-driven approach to evaluation of such programs that includes indicators of relevant ecological risk and resilience elements. More specific recommendations for each of these three areas follow below.

  1. Amendments to the Intensive Aftercare Program Model
    1. Assessments should include a systematic process of strength discovery in addition to the assessment of risks and needs, and the resulting intervention plan should clearly include aspects that build upon existing strengths and/or seek to develop new ones.
    2. Case planning must include the youth and family in setting goals, identifying resources, and selecting intervention strategies.
    3. Case management should reflect strength-based practice principles.
    4. Interventions should be guided by the Positive Youth Justice matrix (Butts et al., 2010).
  2. Implementation Strategies
    1. Leadership must be credible to all stakeholders; committed to the transformation to a strength-based, positive youth development culture; and able to communicate the vision effectively.
    2. Create, nurture, and sustain a meaningful collaboration between juvenile justice agencies and community service providers. Formal memoranda of understanding and co-location of services may be helpful. In addition to the formal collaborative partners, other community resources may be identified and engaged as relevant to individualized case plans.
    3. Staff turnover should be viewed as an opportunity to bring in new staff who are committed to a strength-based, positive youth development culture.
    4. Case managers should receive extensive training in strength-based practice methods and adolescent development.
    5. The bureaucratic infrastructure of the program (e.g., policies, procedures, forms, supervision practices, etc.) should reinforce the strength-based, positive youth development approach.
  3. Evaluation Approach
    1. Develop a logic model with a chain of outcomes that includes enhancing positive youth development elements as well as reducing recidivism (or promoting desistance). Link these outcomes to specific program activities.
    2. Include a process evaluation that monitors the extent to which the program truly implements the strength-based, positive youth development approach.

We contend that adopting these recommendations will result in the creation of settings and programs that support positive youth development. That is, in the terms of Roth and Brooks-Gunn (2003), such programs would set goals aimed at competency development and positive social connectedness, provide supportive and empowering environments, and offer real-world opportunities for youths to build skills and gain broader exposure to social and cultural influences. In this way, reentry programs can prepare youths more effectively for productive engagement in adult roles. Strong implementation and holistic evaluation of a developmentally-enhanced Intensive Aftercare Program model may provide the best chance to improve upon the lackluster results of reentry efforts to date.

About the Authors

William H. Barton, MA, MSW, PhD, is Professor, Indiana University School of Social Work, Indianapolis, Indiana.

G. Roger Jarjoura, PhD, is Associate Professor, Indiana University School of Public and Environmental Affairs, Indianapolis, Indiana. Dr. Jarjoura has developed and provides training on reentry and mentoring, and has been a member of a technical assistance and training team for the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention’s (OJJDP’s) Mentoring System-Involved Youth Initiative.

André B. Rosay, PhD, is Associate Professor and Director of the Justice Center at the University of Alaska Anchorage.


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