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States are "surprisingly slow" in adopting proven methods to deal with violent or delinquent youth and their families, a national juvenile justice conference was told today.
Failure to use the programs has been shown to result in higher crime rates and higher costs---placing youths in facilities or programs that are unproved or may cause youths' behavior to worsen, said Peter Greenwood of the organization Advancing Evidence-Based Practice.
Greenwood spoke at the Models for Change annual conference in Washington, D.C.
Models for Change, started by the MacArthur Foundation in 2004, has invested more than $110 million in 16 states and 35 localities to support juvenile justice reforms.
Many of the efforts have centered in four states: Pennsylvania, Illinois, Louisiana, and Washington.
Greenwood released a survey of states' use of the three most well regarded programs for family therapy that aim at reducing future delinquency. The model programs are called functional family therapy, multi-systemic therapy, and multidimensional treatment foster care.
They involve sending teams of therapists to meet with youth and family members in their homes over a 4-to-9-month period, costing bertween $2,500 and $10,000 per case.
All three programs, which together have been used at more than 700 sites, have been proved to reduce recividism substantially.
The five states that have led by far in the use of these methods are Connecticut, Hawaii, Louisiana, Maine, and New Mexico, which overall make them available five times more than do other states.
Four of the five states started exploring these evidence-based practices in the late 1990s. Louisiana did not adopt them until 2006.
Greenwood and his co-authors, Brandon Welsh and Michael Rocque of Northeastern University, said the five leading states had turned "crisis into opportunity."
Three states were sued by the U.S. Justice Department over substandard conditions in juvenile institutions. In the two other states, "there was a growing political consensus that many youth being sent to placement did not belong there," he said.
In all five places, key stakeholders were assembled to take charge of reforms.
The researchers said a main aim of using evidence-based practices was to reduce "excessive use of institutional placements for juvenile offenders."
They took a look at what has happened in the five states. Connecticut has seen a marked decline in juvenile placements compared to the national average. Maine and Hawaii already were below the national average, and their rate has been stable.
Louisiana, which started the process late, had been above the national placement average but has declined to the national rate.
Only in New Mexico have placements increased in recent years, but the 2010 total is well below that reported in 2001.
"Given the obvious and well documented benefits of evidence-based family therapy programs" in the five states, the study's authors said, other states should adopt similar changes to improve the cost-effectiveness of their crime prevention efforts.
Editor's Note: the study is due to be posted later this week at http://advancingebp.org
Ted Gest is president of Criminal Justice Matters and Washington, DC-based contributing editor of The Crime Report. He welcomes comments from readers.