Turbulent Re-Entry

When it comes to reducing recidivism among convicted juveniles, few programs show as much promise as the Oregon Youth Authority’s Project Support. It nearly doubles the chances that the 225 juvenile participants released each year into the community will stay in school or keep a job, and it employs tactics that have reduced the “return” rates of adult ex-offenders.

So why did the Oregon Youth Authority recently cut more than one-fourth of the project’s slots?

With states releasing more than 100,000 juveniles from secure and residential detention facilities each year, Project Support looks like the kind of program the state and federal governments would want more of. Cutting juvenile recidivism by 4 percent, says U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) Information Analyst Daryl Fox, would prevent 131 assaults, four rapes and 10 murders by juveniles nationwide over the next five years – and save $65 million.

But like several juvenile offender re-entry efforts around the country, Project Support gets more encouragement than cash. Even with the DOJ dedicating $104 million in new funds last year for re-entry programs, few such programs are geared toward youth.
Juvenile re-entry and aftercare receive “little or no priority” in the states, says David Altschuler, a developer of re-entry program models and principal researcher for the Johns Hopkins Institute for Policy Studies.

“Getting re-entry programs up and running is a tough nut to crack,” says Ken Hales, director of Michigan’s Bureau of Juvenile Justice. “Re-entry is an area that has not had much focus.”

Why not? “It takes a high degree of collaboration with the criminal justice system, county social services, labor and housing to forge a relationship as a planning unit,” Hales says. “These agencies don’t usually work together.”

But the federal government realizes that spending more to cut recidivism might save money and hardship in the long run. The DOJ’s estimates for reducing juvenile recidivism by 4 percent, based on a juvenile’s “typical” track record five years after release from a youth corrections program, include $35 million less spent by law enforcement, courts, juvenile justice systems and adult correctional systems, plus $30 million in projected savings to victims. The DOJ forecasts 100 fewer burglaries, 77 fewer auto thefts and 34 fewer robberies.

The DOJ calculates that states spent an average of $135.40 a day last year to keep each juvenile in detention.

That’s partly why the department awarded $104 million in grants last year to 49 states under the new Serious and Violent Offender Re-entry Initiative. Juveniles make up approximately 10 percent of the estimated 160,000 offenders targeted by the grants.

“We are breaking new ground by asking for collaborative efforts among local jurisdictions to create new re-entry systems at the state level,” says Deputy Assistant Attorney General Cheri Nolan of the DOJ’s Office of Justice Programs. “But there isn’t enough money at the state or federal level to address the problem wholesale.”

For example, Michigan split its $2 million grant evenly between adult and juvenile re-entry programs. Hales, of Michigan’s juvenile justice bureau, is helping the contractor (the state’s Family Independence Agency) create re-entry programs for 670 juvenile offenders in five counties. The main tactic is creating a re-entry team that begins meeting with each youth six months prior to release to establish an individualized re-entry plan.

Even before the grants, there were noteworthy juvenile re-entry efforts under way in Kentucky, Colorado, Alabama and Washington, among others states.

The programs raise numerous questions, such as: How should juvenile offenders be prepared for the transition from confinement? Do evaluations show that re-entry programs significantly cut recidivism rates? Are the programs cost-effective?

And, can sufficient money be found withinin shrinking state budgets, or are there alternative sources?

‘Not About Being Nice’

There is some sense of urgency about the issue now because a spate of tougher sentencing laws in recent years has increased the number of youth funneled into the juvenile justice pipeline. Oregon’s Measure 11, for example, imposes mandatory sentences for a variety of crimes, ranging from five years and 10 months to 30 years to life for any youth 15 or older.

“It creates a large population of youngsters each year who need specific kinds of help when they get out,” says Chip Daniels, executive director of the Portland-based Better People, a group advocating juvenile sentencing reform.

Preparing those juveniles for release “is not about being nice guys,” says former U.S. Assistant Attorney General Laurie Robinson. “It’s about future public safety in our communities and helping offenders get back on their feet.”

Saying that re-entry resources “have not kept pace” with the huge amounts of money used to build prisons, Jeremy Travis, a senior fellow at the D.C.-based Urban Institute, adds: “A continuum of drug treatment, literacy and vocational interventions have to be in place in the community when the kids are sent back to the streets to face temptation and the reality of relapse. They can reduce recidivism.”

Oregon’s Project Support has demonstrated that. The Oregon Youth Authority (OYA) is one of the few juvenile correctional agencies in the country that have been subjected to an extended period of post-release evaluation.

“We don’t control who comes in the front door,” says OYA Director Karen Brazeau, “but we do control who comes back to us.”
The OYA has had a re-entry program since its creation in 1995, Brazeau says, but Project Support was created on the basis of subsequent research – primarily a four-year longitudinal study begun in 1994 by four professors from the University of Oregon.

The study, “Life on the ‘Outs’: Transition Research on Adjudicated Youth in Community Settings” (TRACS), followed 531 youth offenders, profiling their work, educational and social experiences, for one to four years following their release from OYA. Fifty-eight percent had a special education disability, 69 percent had a history of substance abuse and 63 percent had been placed in an alternative living arrangement, such as foster care, prior to their incarceration.

The findings mirrored what Libby Mills, special coordinator for the Kentucky Department of Juvenile Justice, calls the “traditional breaks” with post-release re-entry/after-care services. Almost 60 percent of the youths returned to OYA. Only 25 percent enrolled in a school or college, and few completed their education.

Employment rates were a “disturbingly low” 30 percent, the study noted, with the “typical” job being “farm labor or menial service work, 30 hours a week, 11 weeks in duration at $5.36 an hour.” Only 35 percent of the youths were engaged in school
or work.

“The study confirmed our suspicions about kids with learning disabilities,” Brazeau laments. “They get bounced out of school, don’t receive any meaningful social services and return to the corrections system at three times the rate of others.”

Emphasis on Education, Jobs

With the TRACS study in mind, Project Support was born as a collaboration of OYA, the state departments of Education and Vocational Rehabilitation and the University of Oregon. From 1999 through last year, 225 youth had gone through the project’s intense re-entry program, which emphasizes education and treatment of psychiatric disabilities.

Some results: Six months after release from OYA, the enrolled youths showed an approximately 65 percent “engagement” rate by holding jobs or staying in school. The earlier TRACS study, before Project Support, showed an average rate of 35 percent (of 531 youth tracked) holding jobs or returning to school.

Each Project Support youth is assigned a youth worker (dubbed a “transition officer”), a sort of mentor to guide and advise an individual’s re-entry into the community. The earlier TRACS study showed that recidivism was lower if a youngster received services and held a job for one year after release.

The study also concluded that keeping a youth from re-entering the juvenile justice system saved the state $51,000 annually.
Other examples of juvenile re-entry programs include:

• The Alabama Department of Youth Services. The Agency has routed $973,000 of the new DOJ grant money to the Boys & Girls Club of South Alabama, which partners with local community social services and the University of South Alabama to create a re-entry program involving 200 youths a year.

• The Intensive Parole Supervision Program (IP) operated by the Washington State Department of Social Services’ Juvenile Rehabilitation Administration. The agency was directed by the state legislature in 1997 to develop a program with special emphasis on “those 25 percent of juvenile parolees who are at most risk to lapse in criminal behavior upon release to parole.” An IP mentoring program evaluation (using a small sample of 25 mentored juveniles) showed a 12 percent drop in felony recidivism rates one year after release.

• The Colorado Division of Youth Corrections’ three-phase program, run in conjunction with “consortium partners” such as the University of Colorado’s Health Sciences Center. The “institutional” phase includes a needs and services assessment; the “transitional” phase starts 90 days before the youth is released; and the “reintegration,” or post-release phase, links youths to community agencies and programs.

Money Woes
While re-entry programs may be a juvenile justice budget analyst’s choice, the programs are not getting much help from the public or even federal officials, beyond the DOJ’s new initiative.

In January, for instance, Oregon voters resoundingly defeated (55 percent to 45 percent) Measure 28, which called for a tax increase to fund basic social support services.

As a result, juvenile justice funding was slashed by nearly $8 million. State officials announced last month that because of the cuts, they will grant early release to 250 high-risk youth offenders. And Brazeau says the number of youth in Project Support will be reduced to 161 per year from 225.

“We will not cut or water down our programs by gutting treatment areas, but we will reduce the number of youth,” Brazeau says.
Even though the DOJ’s Serious and Violent Offender Reentry Initiative helped alleviate Oregon’s financial woes with a $2 million grant last summer, it gave no relief to OYA. The grant went to the Oregon Department of Corrections for services to “300 male adult offenders.”

The federal grants program is coordinated by DOJ’s Office of Justice Programs and funded by the DOJ ($51 million), the Department of Labor ($45 million) and the Department of Health and Human Services ($8 million). Grants went to every state except Nebraska (which did not apply) and to the District of Columbia and U.S. territories such as the Virgin Islands.

The juvenile re-entry grants and the technical assistance (provided by the Fairfax, Va.-based Caliber Associates) for the sites are managed by DOJ’s Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP). Other partners in the collaboration include the departments of Agriculture, Commerce, Education, Housing and Urban Development, and Veterans Affairs.

Of the 68 three-year grants awarded (several states had multiple programs), 23 were specifically for juvenile re-entry program start-ups or ongoing efforts. Twenty-one others were for adult programs and 24 were for a combination of adult and juvenile efforts. But with the initiative’s emphasis on the more than 90 percent of adults released last year who fall into the violent offender category, the bulk of the money will go to adults.

In fact, a pattern emerges regarding federal re-entry funds geared toward youthful offenders. The DOJ’s Young Offender Initiative: Reentry Grant program (age range: 14 to 35) was withdrawn from solicitation in 2001. The last of OJJDP’s Intensive Aftercare Program grants went out in 2000. The $25 million Department of Education Grants to States for Workplace and Community Transition Training for Incarcerated Youth Offenders was eliminated in the Bush administration’s 2003 budget proposal (but put back in by Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa.). And the $55 million Responsible Reintegration for Young Offenders grants from the Department of Labor (DOL) have been slated for elimination in the Bush administration’s 2004 budget request.

Lorenzo Harrison, director of DOL’s Youth Employment and Training Division, says the Young Offenders Initiative “invokes aspects of re-entry, but is not wholly re-entry-focused.”

At the Education Department, the state grants for incarcerated youth offenders (under Title VIII of the Higher Education Act) – the program the Bush administration wanted to eliminate – was referred to by spokesman John Linton as a “boutique program … very small, more difficult to manage and hard to evaluate.” He says it is coordinated by the Safe and Drug-Free Schools division, has been around “for about 25 years,” promotes postsecondary instruction and “predates federal re-entry programs.”

Altschuler, at the Johns Hopkins Institute for Policy Studies, praises the federal re-entry initiative and DOL’s young offender grants, but derides what he calls the Bush administration’s policies of “conflicting inclinations.” He cites “impediments and barriers” in federal polices that exclude juvenile ex-offenders from public housing, and what he says are confusing eligibility requirements, “especially the age requirements,” for re-entry programs.

Learning from Adults?

With the re-entry initiative, says Office of Justice Programs’ Nolan, “We’re looking for models that work, so the [grants] leave room for the states to figure out their own approach.”

In some places, those models will build on programs geared toward adults.

Terrence Donahue, Nolan’s assistant, has become a cheerleader for the two-year-old Re-entry Court in Fort Wayne, Ind., which coordinates the efforts of prosecutors, prison staff, parole officers, work force investment boards and other community-based support services. While providing supervision and counseling for newly released offenders during its first year, only three of its 55 first-year participants have returned to jail. Although it’s an adult court, on the strength of its performance, the DOJ awarded a $1 million grant to the Indiana Department of Correction to start a juvenile replica next month in Fort Wayne, Donahue’s hometown.

Like the DOJ, Robert “Mike” Hooper and James Inciardi, co-developers of the KEY and CREST drug therapy programs, believe approaches that work for adult offenders can have similar results with juveniles.

“Unless you have that follow-up care in the community” after release from prison or detention, Inciardi says, “you’ve wasted your money.”

But programs clearly have to be tailored to youth. “There is an application to adolescents,” says Hooper, who spent several years counseling in and supervising adolescent treatment programs. “But it takes an engaged, skilled staff challenged by the task to pull it off.”

The rules have to be especially clear, he says. “Adolescents need a structured environment where it is predictable what occurs and, above all, what can be accomplished if they go along with the program.”

Bill Alexander can be reached at


Karen Brazeau, Director
Oregon Youth Authority
530 Center St. NE, Suite 200
Salem, OR 97301
(503) 373-7205

Cheri Nolan
U.S. Office of Justice Programs
National Criminal Justice
Reference Service
(800) 851-3420

Bob Salsbury, Administrator
Juvenile Parole Program
Juvenile Rehabilitation Administration
2610 Northwest Blvd.
Spokane, WA 99205
(509) 456-2728

Laurie Robinson, President
CSR Inc.
2107 Wilson Blvd., Suite 1000
Arlington, VA 22201
(703) 312-5220

Jeremy Travis, Senior Fellow
Urban Institute
2100 M St. NW
Washington, DC 20037
(202) 833-7200

The Research Says…

Studies of juvenile evidence-based re-entry programs are hard to come by because the programs tend to be too new or uncoordinated, or they change their approaches too often. The Oregon Youth Authority’s longitudinal study, begun in 1994, is a rarity: It focused on 531 youth offenders for up to four years after their release from secure custody.

Called “Life on the ‘Outs’: Transition Research on Adjudicated Youth in Community Settings” (TRACS), the study was conducted by a four-person team from the University of Oregon’s Institute on Violence and Destructive Behavior.

Among its conclusions: Youths who were engaged in work or school activities immediately after leaving the correctional system remained in the community and out of the correctional system.

“This finding certainly suggests that if intensive services could be afforded youth at the point of release from the correctional system and continued intensively for at least one year post-release, such services are likely to reduce return rates and improve subsequent work and educational success,” the report says.

Because most studies dealing with re-entry programs involve adults, some people in juvenile justice cite programs that show positive results as prototypes for juvenile re-entry efforts.

One such study, “Corrections-Based Continuum of Effective Drug Abuse Treatment,” involved the Delaware Department of Corrections and researchers at the University of Delaware. It tracked 206 (mostly adult) offenders with a history of drug abuse who participated in the KEY in-prison treatment program (for one-year prior to release) and in CREST, a post-release program in a community work-release center.

One year after release, the study showed, 76 percent of the participants were drug-free and 71 percent had not been re-arrested. The results for a similar group not receiving institutional treatment or community follow-up: Nineteen percent were drug-free and only 30 percent had not been arrested again.

Contacts: Michael Bullis, University of Oregon (541) 346-3562,; James Inciardi, University of Delaware, (305) 529-1911,


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