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Best Practices

Best Practices

Research reveals that the effect sizes (ESs) for JDTCs vary widely
across programs, with some JDTCs having no effect on recidivism (e.g.,
Cook et al., 2009; Wright & Clymer, 2001; Anspach et al., 2003) and
others reducing recidivism by as much as 8 to 15 percentage points
(Rodriquez & Webb, 2004; Crumpton et al., 2006).  In fact, when
JDTCs have taken substantial efforts to incorporate evidence-based
treatments into their curricula and reached out to caregivers in the
youths’ natural social environments, reductions in delinquency and
substance abuse have been as high as 15 to 40 percent (Hickert et al.,
2010; Henggeler et al., 2006; Shaffer et al., 2008).

These findings should come as no surprise.  Reviewers of substance
abuse treatment interventions have long known that outcomes for
adolescents tend to vary greatly between programs (e.g., Waldron &
Turner, 2008).  Lackluster results have commonly been reported for
programs that failed to offer evidence-based treatments, neglected to
include family members or other caregivers in the interventions, or made
insufficient efforts to tailor their interventions to the cognitive and
maturational levels of the juveniles (e.g., Fixsen et al., 2010;Rossman
et al., 2004).  It would seem thatyouthful substance-abusing offenders
may be unusually intolerant of weak or ineffective efforts.  With a
relatively narrow margin for error, it is incumbent upon JDTC
practitioners to “get it right” by honing their skills and targeting
their interventions most effectively from the outset. 

Several risk factors have been reliably associated with juvenile
delinquency and substance abuse in numerous research studies.  These
include ineffective supervision and inconsistent disciplinary practices
on the part of the juveniles’ guardians, as well as frequent
associations with deviant peers and low engagement in prosocial
activities on the part of the juveniles (e.g., Eddy & Chamberlain,
2000; Huey et al., 2000).  Not surprisingly, JDTCs have been most
successful when they targeted these specific risk factors. 

In the randomized study described earlier (Henggeler et al., 2006), the
investigators found that the JDTC did a significantly better job than
the traditional family court of improving parental supervision and
discipline of the juveniles, and reducing the juveniles’ associations
with deviant peers (Schaeffer et al., in press).  These short-term
improvements were found, in turn, to “mediate” (that is, go on to
produce) longer-term reductions in substance use and delinquency.  These
early findings suggest that JDTCs have the potential to out-perform
conventional juvenile probation or family court services, but perhaps
only to the extent that they use their leverage over the juveniles and
their guardians to enhance caregiver supervision, improve caregiver
disciplinary practices, and reduce the juveniles’ associations with
delinquent peers.  If JDTCs do not focus their efforts on these key risk
factors, they may be unlikely to achieve significant improvements in

Recent studies are providing guidance on how JDTCs can achieve these
effects.  One study examined the relationship between guardians’
attendance at status hearings in a JDTC and youth outcomes (Salvatore et
al., in press).  The results revealed that the more often caregivers
attended status hearings, the less often the juveniles were late to or
absent from treatment, were tardy or absent from school, provided
positive drug tests, or received sanctions for behavioral infractions in
the program.  Research in adult drug courts has long
demonstrated that court hearings are a central ingredient of the
intervention (e.g., Carey et al., 2008; Festinger et al., 2002; Marlowe
et al., 2006, 2007).  It now appears the same may hold true for JDTCs,
but with one important caveat:  The courtroom interactions should serve,
at least in part, to teach the caregivers how to interact effectively
with their teens and apply consistent behavioral consequences. 

A related finding comes from a multi-site study of three JDTCs in Iowa,
in which two of the programs were supervised by volunteer community
panels rather than by judges (Cook et al., 2009).  No differences were
found in rates of new arrests for juvenile or adult offenses over a
follow-up period of 4½ years.  Of perhaps greater concern, there were no
differences in re-arrest rates between the JDTC graduates and
terminated participants, thus indicating the programs were generally
ineffective.  These disappointing results might be attributable to the
fact that judges did not supervise roughly two-thirds (62%) of the
participants.  If, as in the case of adult drug courts, judicial status
hearings are a key component of JDTCs, then it should not be surprising
that dropping this key ingredient would hinder effectiveness. 

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