The juvenile court has long grappled with fulfilling its joint, and often contradictory, mission of protecting the community from serious crime and giving adolescent offenders the resources needed to redirect their lives (Rosenheim, Zimring, Tannenhaus, & Dohrn, 2002
). In recent times, the protection of the public has emerged as a more explicit and valued goal of juvenile justice, with less restrictions on the transfer of juveniles to adult court, more punitive punishment policies, and more skepticism about the value of intervention (Zimring, 1998
; Feld, 2000
). Even in these times, however, treatment has not been abandoned as a component of juvenile justice policy. The juvenile justice system still has a strong community identity, as well as a vast amount of resources, invested in averting future crime by providing appropriate services to adolescent offenders. In addition, case law has consistently reinforced the idea that the juvenile system has a strong obligation to provide treatment (Slobogin, 1999
). Although the terrain has shifted somewhat, rehabilitation and punishment still co-exist as central policy goals of juvenile justice.
Balancing social service intervention and punishment is most difficult when considering adolescents who, despite their age, either commit crimes that the public fears (e.g., armed robbery) or repeatedly commit somewhat serious crimes (e.g., burglary). These serious adolescent offenders (see Loeber, Farrington, and Waschbusch (1998)
for definitional frameworks) present real risks to community safety and their actions warrant strict restrictions. At the same time, they are still adolescents, still developing in multiple domains of their lives, still connected to their families, and difficult to “write off” wholesale because there may still be hope for positive change. One of the most difficult challenges facing the juvenile justice system lies in determining how to use particular sanctions and interventions judiciously with these offenders.
The court has long addressed this problem by filtering to adult court those adolescents who commit selected serious crimes and those thought to be beyond rehabilitation, while providing interventions to “correct” the issues that promote criminal offending in the rest of the adolescents. From the early efforts of probation officers to provide guidance to community resources (Levine & Levine,1992
), through institutional programs to alter attitudes using group process (e.g., Gottfredson, 1987
), to the modern day efforts to re-integrate adolescent offenders into the community (Altschuler, Armstrong, & MacKenzie, 1999
), the emphasis has been on identifying and altering the most troubled aspects of an adolescent's intrapsychic or social world that could be contributing to their continued criminal involvement.
The history of these efforts has not been terribly encouraging. For a long time, the accepted wisdom was that very little worked. Newer reviews (Aos, Phipps, Barnoski, & Lieb, 2001
; Lipsey, 1999
; Sherman et al., 1997
), however, find evidence of positive effects from various forms of intervention (a general reduction in arrests of about 20%) and several promising approaches for intervening with serious adolescent offenders (e.g., comprehensive, family-based approaches). While this literature has made substantial strides in determining “what works”, it is still far from determining how the system works or understanding the limits or potentials of existing sanctioning or intervention practices. Only continued investigation of the operations of the current juvenile justice system can sort out why certain forms of interventions might work for certain individuals or how they might work better.
Interventions with serious adolescent offenders may be effective or ineffective for several reasons aside from the demonstrated efficacy of the intervention approach itself (Mulvey & Woolard, 1997
). First, certain services simply may or may not be delivered. Placement in an institutional setting or enrollment in a program does not guarantee receipt of all available services. Particular services might be selectively delivered within some programs while other programs might deliver a uniform set of services to all program participants. In addition, the scope of available services may differ from one institutional setting or program to another. Also, sadly, sometimes service providers simply do not deliver what they promise. Second, services might not be targeted to the appropriate individuals. Services for specific problems (e.g., substance use) may not be delivered at all to individuals with clear needs or might be delivered to adolescents who do not need them. Even if there is a strong link between an adolescent risk behavior (e.g., alcohol use) and antisocial behavior, poorly targeted service delivery will necessarily prove ineffective when applied broadly, Those with the problem who do not get the service will continue to offend, and those without the clear problem who get the service should show no real impact on their offending. Finally, services may be delivered to adolescents with demonstrated needs, but these needs may have only limited impact on the continuation of offending. If an adolescent is violent because of poor anger control and also has gang involvement, intervention aimed to only reduce gang involvement might be appropriate and even effective, but it may still show little impact on his continued fighting.
Surprisingly little systematic information is available about how or how effectively the current juvenile justice system provides services to serious adolescent offenders. A voluminous literature does exist on how adolescent offenders progress through the court systems (e.g., Snyder & Sickmund, 1999
), While this literature provides valuable insights into how different types of cases are processed, it is generally limited regarding the characteristics of the adolescents processed or the services provided after disposition. There is also a very large literature on how selected samples of adolescent offenders fare after involvement with certain sanctioning or intervention approaches (e.g., transfer to adult court, see Bishop, 2000
). Again, however, information about the types of services received during the period after court involvement is sparse, and examination of outcomes other than re-arrest is rare. Longitudinal investigations (e.g., see Thornberry & Krohn, 2003
), directed mainly toward identifying risks for future offending in high risk cohorts, sometimes address questions surrounding service provision. In these investigations, the characteristics of those adolescents who receive certain types of services are usually identified, but a comprehensive picture of service provision over time is rarely provided. In these studies, there is also rare information about the treatment or sanctioning experiences of serious adolescent offenders as a separate group and the depiction of service involvement is necessarily general.
The value of having more detailed information about services provided to serious adolescent offenders may, however, be substantial. Investigations of the patterns of service provision to troubled adolescents in other service systems demonstrate the potential utility of understanding how these system operations limit or enhance the impact of interventions. For example, studies of the patterns of service provision across the child welfare, juvenile justice, and educational systems show differing rates of detection of problems which are related to the system in which a child begins his/her service career (Hazen, Hough, Landsverk, & Wood, 2004
). Perhaps the clearest findings, however, are those showing differential service involvement by race and gender (Burns et al., 2004
; Garland & Besinger, 1997
), with minority adolescents consistently receiving fewer services. Studies have also identified the possibility that, for minority youth, involvement with the juvenile justice system may be an effective conduit for services (Yeh et al., 2002
), but longitudinal data on sequential service use is insufficient to support this possibility (Garland, Hough, Landsverk, & Brown, 2001
). Taken together, studies such as these highlight points of leverage in the system for more focused identification and treatment and provide a valuable context for the interpretation of program evaluations.
A growing body of literature has also emerged regarding the identification and treatment of adolescents with mental health problems in the juvenile justice system (Redding, Lexcen, & Ryan, 2005
). The impetus for this work comes from a set of related concerns: that a large number of mentally ill adolescents may be undetected in the juvenile justice system, that these adolescents might be treated more appropriately in other settings, that these youth are at high risk of re-offending if left untreated, and that these youth are likely to be damaged by extended system involvement (Grisso, 2004
). Numerous studies of youth in the juvenile justice system indicate a prevalence of diagnosable mental disorders at a rate that is 2–3 times higher than the rate in community samples (Cocozza & Skowyra, 2000
; Teplin, Abram, McClelland, Dulcan, & Mericle, 2002
; Wasserman, McReynolds, Lucas, Fisher, & Santos, 2002
). Little research, however, has been conducted on the services received by these adolescents with mental health disorders, and the evidence that exists about the receipt of appropriate services for mental health or other identified problems is almost exclusively based on retrospective reconstruction of records (Garland et al., 2001
A research agenda aimed at highlighting the type and extent of services provided to serious adolescent offenders is the first step in developing a fully coherent picture of how to improve services for these adolescents. Experience-based information about the types and appropriateness of the services provided to this group allows for a realistic appraisal of what can be expected from juvenile justice system involvement and the formation of an informed opinion about how to provide more appropriate services in this system. The analyses presented here take an initial step in that research agenda.
These results come from a larger longitudinal study of serious adolescent offenders in two major metropolitan areas (Philadelphia County, PA and Maricopa County, AZ) as they make their transition into emerging adulthood (see Mulvey et al., 2004
). This study collected comprehensive information about the characteristics of adolescent offenders appearing before the court (between December, 2000 and March, 2003) as well as detailed information regarding the services received over the two years after court adjudication. These data provide a valuable, comprehensive picture of which adolescents are sent to different types of facilities, and the types of services that they receive after court adjudication.
The comparison of service provision in Maricopa County, AZ and Philadelphia County, PA is particularly informative from a policy and planning perspective. These locales have different philosophies regarding the appropriate role of the court and different orientations to the delivery of services to juvenile offenders. During the period of data collection, Arizona operated under an automatic waiver statute for some offenses with no provision for waiver back to the juvenile system, and, as a result, a high rate of placement of juveniles into the adult criminal justice system (29%; 192/654). Pennsylvania, on the other hand, had a decertification process for its waiver to adult court, and a relatively low rate of moving serious juvenile cases to the adult court (7%; 51/701) (Griffin, Torbet, & Szymanski, 1998
). In addition, the service system in Arizona was dominated by state-run facilities, while Pennsylvania relied on an extensive system of private service providers. Based on the most recent data regarding adolescents in care in the juvenile justice system (Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, Census of Juvenile in Residential Placement Databook, 2004
; Puzzanchera, Finnegan, & Kang, 2005
), Arizona and Pennsylvania each had only about .2% to .3% of their adolescents (between the ages of 11 and 18) in residential care in 2003. In Arizona, however, about 68% of these committed adolescents were in state-run facilities; in Pennsylvania, about 62% were in privately-run facilities. Examination of the provision of appropriate services for serious adolescent offenders in these two locales thus provides a glimpse at how particular policy contexts eventually affect the level and types of services provided to serious offending adolescents.
This paper accomplishes three things. First, it describes the placements and services provided to this group of serious adolescent offenders during the two-year follow-up period after adjudication. These analyses also provide information about the extent of race/ethnicity and gender differences in service provision to serious adolescent offenders. Second, it provides a comparison of the patterns of placement and service provision in the two locales. Finally, it examines whether the level of an adolescent's risk for future offending/need for services is related to the placements or services received. Taken together, these analyses provide a comprehensive picture of the patterns of service provision to this subgroup of offenders and a picture of the efficiency of the system in providing services to adolescents most in need.