2011 Could Be Big Year for Some Juvenile Drug Treatment Programs

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We might be reading the tea leaves too much here, but it seems that multiple factors may align to spur an investment in drug treatment for juveniles convicted of serious offenses. To wit:

Factor One: Pathways to Desistance Study

Most of the data from the Pathways to Desistance Study, which followed more than 1,300 serious juvenile offenders fin Philadelphia and Phoenix for seven years, is still being collected and analyzed. Co-author Edward Mulvey said the plan is to release findings as they become available, and you can check here for the latest updates.   

An early release of information last December said that where a juvenile was placed for rehabilitation – community, residential or secure settings – was not predictive of whether he or she continued to offend. 

But the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, which helped fund the study, published a bulletin last week that highlights one area where Pathways researchers found unequivocal success in curbing persistent criminal activity: family-involved drug treatment programs.

More than a third of males and females followed by Pathways had a diagnosable drug or alcohol dependency, the bulletin said, and family-involved drug treatment was the one strategy associated with lower future offending.

Important note on this: There are drug treatment models – Multi-Systemic Therapy (MST) and Multi-Dimensional Family Therapy (MDFT), to name two – that include family involvement as a key treatment component. Identifying specific therapies was not what the Pathways study relied on; the interviewers simply asked the offenders whether their drug treatment program involved family members.

“What we’re looking at are not the effects of demonstration programs; just whether the kid with a problem got [a type of] drug treatment or not,” said Pathways co-author  Mulvey told Youth Today. The study looks at family-involved drug treatment “as a generic brand,” he said.

Factor Two: Urban Survey of 2008

Two years ago, John Jay College researcher Jeff Butts collaborated with some of his former colleagues at the Urban Institute and surveyed juvenile court practitioners (judges, prosecutors, defenders and administrators) about what they believed were the most effective strategies for addressing juvenile crime.

The survey prompted about 500 responses. The number one answer: substance abuse treatment.

Factor Three: State Budgets

Dozens of states are as broke as church mice, which means that pretty much any cost-cutting measure is on the table. In some states, such as South Carolina, budget-cutting has already spelled disaster for residential and community JJ programs. In other states, such as Alabama, the high costs associated with keeping large locked facilities full of juveniles have opened the door for juvenile justice programs that offer cheaper community-based strategies.

One wrinkle here: Mulvey said Pathways research indicates that of the offenders who received family-involved drug treatment, “most of the kids getting it are getting it in institutions. The family involvement starts there, and moves to community with re-entry.”

To really sell family-involved drug treatment as cheaper, it would need to occur in lieu of the juvenile being placed, rather than occur in the placement.  

It all adds up to a rational environment for investment in family-involved drug treatment. Even if offenders were locked up while getting treatment, and the immediate cost savings weren’t there for systems, the chance to keep juveniles convicted of serious crimes out of  adult prisons in the future carries the prospect of long-term savings.

Will that happen? Who knows? It certainly would improve the chances of states and counties spending some dough if federal funding was available.

OJJDP and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration already have a small joint venture to seed juvenile drug courts each year. The expectation is that domestic spending will get chopped in the 2012 appropriations process year (you know, assuming Congress decides actually to have a process this time).

On the other hand, there is a chance that OJJDP won’t have to dish out the majority of its discretionary money for earmarks in 2011 or 2012. So it might be possible for them to carve out a federal push for family-involved drug treatment.