Policy Analysis | March 2015

Programs and Strategies for Reducing Youth Violence

Lauren Greer

Although the details may vary, the issue of youth violence is one that almost all communities will encounter. Approaches to addressing this issue are as diverse as the juvenile offenders themselves. The following information provides details on a number of programs and resources available that aim to reduce the prevalence of youth violence.

St. Louis Nightwatch

St. Louis Nightwatch Program - Created in 2000, the Nightwatch Program is a partnership between the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department and the Juvenile Division of the St. Louis City Family Court. The goal of the program is to increase the accountability of juveniles under court supervision by conducting random checks on their compliance with court-ordered curfews. From its inception in 2000 through December 2013, 123,546 visits were made to juveniles. The St. Louis Family Court reported that from October 2012-September 2013, 6,260 visits yielded a compliance rate of 83.2 percent.

A 2005 evaluation of the Nightwatch Program found the rate of recidivism to be much lower among juveniles assigned to the program than among their juvenile counterparts not enrolled in the Nightwatch Program.

CSG Justice Center - Texas Juvenile Justice Reform

Closer to Home: An Analysis of the State and Local Impact of the Texas Juvenile Justice Reforms - In 2007, following reports of abuse suffered by youth incarcerated in state-run juvenile correctional facilities, leaders in Texas began a concerted effort toward reforming the state’s juvenile justice system. During the next five years, policymakers enacted legislation with an aim of reducing the number of youth in state-run correctional facilities while improving the community-based options and outcomes for the state’s juvenile offenders. In 2012, at the request of juvenile justice architect, state Senator John Whitmire, the CSG Justice Center began to study the impact of these reforms on the state and the juveniles involved with the system. The January 2015 report, Closer to Home, shows that between 2007 and 2012, the number of Texas youth incarcerated in state facilities was reduced by 66 percent and, over the same period, juvenile arrests were down by 33 percent. Utilizing data on more than 13,000 youth released from state facilities between 2006 and 2011, the study also found that juveniles released from state custody were 21 percent more likely to be rearrested than similar offending juveniles released from county-run supervision programs and three times more likely to commit a felony. Although unable to conclusively state the reforms are the cause of these improvements, or guarantee similar results in the future, the report demonstrates they had a positive impact on Texas’ juvenile justice system and may be worthy for consideration by states around the country.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has declared youth violence to be a public health crisis in the United States. By taking a public health approach, the goal of the CDC is to prevent youth violence before it starts. By examining the trends and risk factors associated with youth violence, the CDC evaluates prevention strategies and works with communities to implement and monitor the most promising approaches. In 2000, the CDC began the National Centers of Excellence in Youth Violence Prevention to promote collaboration between youth violence prevention researchers and communities.

Preventing Youth Violence: Opportunities for Action

In 2014, the CDC published “Preventing Youth Violence: Opportunities for Action” as a resource guide for public health and community leaders to provide information and action steps they can take when working with partners to prevent youth violence. The guide provides key prevention strategies and actions that youth, families, caregivers, adults who work with youth, and other community members can take to work toward this goal. Table 1 on page 22 of the guide provides details on the four main approaches to preventing youth violence as well as examples of specific programs, policies, and practices that have shown success. Table 3 on page 32 of the guide provides a summary of actions to prevent youth violence for each group of actors. The companion guide, “Taking Action to Prevent Youth Violence,” provides additional details on steps each of these groups can take to reduce youth violence.

The evidence-based approaches detailed in these CDC resource guides for preventing youth violence are:

  1. Universal School-based Youth Violence Prevention - This approach, for use in schools, is based on providing students and educators with information about violence and teaching skills for nonviolent dispute resolution. An example of this type of program is Life Skills Training;
  2. Parenting Skill and Family Relationship Approaches - This approach, for use in homes, is based on providing caregivers with support and teaching communication, problem-solving, monitoring, and behavior management skills. An example of this type of program is the Strengthening Families Program;
  3. Policy, Environmental and Structural Approach - This approach, for use in communities, is based on making changes in community environments to enhance safety and reduce the risk for youth violence. An example of this type of program is Business Improvement Districts (BIDs);
  4. Intensive Family-focused Approach - This approach focuses on those at immediate risk by providing therapeutic services to high-risk, chronic youth offenders and their families. Examples of this type of program are Multidimensional Treatment Foster Care and the Multisystemic Therapy (MST) Program.
  5. Street Outreach and Community Mobility - This approach also focuses on those at immediate risk by connecting at-risk youth with trained staff to provide conflict mediation, service referrals, and strategies to change beliefs about the acceptability of violence. An example of this program is Cure Violence;
  6. Early Childhood Visitation - This approach, for use with infants and very young children, focuses on providing information, caregiver support, and training on children’s health and development to families. An example of this program is the Nurse Family Partnership.
  7. Early Childhood Education - This approach focuses on providing high-quality education to young disadvantaged children to help build a strong foundation for future learning and healthy development. An example of this program is the Early Risers “Skills for Success” Program.

Striving to Reduce Youth Violence Everywhere (STRYVE)

STRYVE is a national initiative led by the CDC to help public health departments and community partners implement evidence-based prevention strategies. The goal of STRYVE is to bridge the gap between what is known about effective prevention activities and what is happening in communities. The STRYVE Online program is a resource that offers training, guidance, and other tools that communities can use to build partnerships to implement community-wide youth violence prevention strategies. STRYVE Online, which also provides research, data, and evaluations, focuses its resources toward those in communities who have the capacity to enact change, including elected officials, appointed agency or institution heads, key staff, and community leaders, and policymakers. STRYVE Online can help state and federal leaders understand the ongoing youth violence prevention efforts in their communities and identify ways in which they could best support these efforts through complementary and reinforcing policies, programs, and practices. Some state-level entities that have worked with STRYVE in the SLC region include the Division of Prevention and Health Promotion at the Virginia Department of Health; Bureau of Health Promotion and Chronic Disease at the Alabama Department of Public Health; and the Kentucky Center for School Safety at Eastern Kentucky University.

Program Evaluations and Databases

The CDC has recognized several organizations for their development and maintenance of online databases to catalog and review evidence-based juvenile justice and youth development programs. Each database offers a program summary, an evaluation on the program’s effectiveness, and some indications on the costs of the program. Blueprints, the Model Programs Guide, and the National Registry of Evidence-based Programs and Practices are three of the most recognized databases.

Blueprints for Healthy Youth Development is a registry developed by the Center for the Study and Prevention of Violence at the Institute of Behavior Science, University of Colorado - Boulder. Each program is evaluated and given a rating of Model or Promising based on its demonstrated effectiveness for changing targeted behavior and developmental outcomes. In addition to providing details about the costs of the program, Blueprint also offers strategies for funding each of the programs. Blueprints currently includes profiles on 56 programs, 13 of which have been rated as Model programs.

The Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) has developed the Model Programs Guide (MPG) as a clearinghouse of information on evidence-based programs for juvenile justice, youth prevention, delinquency prevention, and child protection and safety. Program topics in the database range from prevention through sanctions and re-entry. Currently, profiles of 216 programs, each of which has been rated as Effective (51), Promising (129), or showing No Effect (36), are included in the MPG.

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Registry of Evidence-based Programs and Practices (NREPP) catalogues intervention options with a focus on mental health and substance abuse. For each intervention, the NREPP rates the quality of research supporting intervention outcomes and the quality and availability of training and implementation materials. It does not rate the effectiveness of the programs.

Details on three highly rated programs from each of the databases that seek to address the issue of youth violence in a community-based setting follow.

Multisystemic Therapy (MST): The MST Program is a family- and community-based treatment geared toward 12 to 17 year-olds who have exhibited serious antisocial problem behavior like drug use, violence, and serious criminal behavior at home, school, and in other common settings. Through the program, therapists work with juvenile offenders and their families to identify the problems and factors contributing to delinquency and seek solutions to address those issues for each individual offender. Some of the steps taken once a problem has been identified are working with the parents to remove their barriers from effective parenting, like parental substance abuse or mental health needs, and implementing strategies to decrease the juvenile’s affiliations with delinquent and enabling peers. The program has been profiled in a variety of evidence-based program registries as an effective approach to address youth violence and juvenile offenders. The MST Program has been recognized by several different organizations as an effective option for addressing individual youth violence including, Blueprint, the MPG, and the NREPP.

Adolescent Diversion Program (Michigan State University): The Adolescent Diversion Program (ADP) is an 18-week strengths-based intervention program that diverts arrested youth from the juvenile justice system to community-based services. Over the course of the program, caseworkers spend between six and eight hours a week with the juvenile in his or her home, school, and community providing services specifically tailored to the juvenile’s needs. The focus of their work is to improve his or her skills in various areas, including family relationships, school, employment, and free time activities. The goal of the program is to prevent future delinquency by strengthening the youth’s attachment to family, increase his or her access to community resources, and prevent the youth from encountering the potential stigmas associated with things like the juvenile justice system. The program, which began in 1976, remains active, and targets young offenders between the ages of 13 and 15. Two separate studies found that the program contributes to a significant reduction in recidivism rates. The ADP program has an MPG rating of Effective.

AMIkids Personal Growth Model (PGM): The AMIkids Personal Growth Model focuses on 10 to 17 year-olds who have been adjudicated and assigned to a day treatment program, residential treatment program or an alternative school in lieu of incarceration, as well as those who have been assigned to an alternative school after failing in a conventional school setting. The program, which lasts between six and eight months, targets the risk factors that contribute to delinquent behavior and poor academic performance and seeks to reduce recidivism, improve program completion rates, and promote academic achievement. Prior to receiving services through the AMIkids PGM program, an assessment is conducted on the risk, needs, and motivation to change the youth and his or her family. Following this assessment, a treatment plan incorporating education, treatment, and behavior modification is developed for the juvenile. The program which has been used in the SLC states of Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, North Carolina, South Carolina, Texas, and Virginia, has been found to reduce the rates of re-arrest and re-adjudication and improve academic achievement among participants.