Reducing Recidivism for Juvenile Criminal Offenders

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Juvenile criminal behavior is something that Americans are all too familiar with. Through local and national news coverage we often hear about burglaries, thefts, and murders committed by adolescents. One thing that mainstream media fails to report is how the criminal justice system works with youth to decrease recidivism and increase rehabilitation.

According to the U.S. Department of Justice recidivism is the repetition of criminal behavior.  There is no national recidivism rate for juveniles since juvenile justice systems vary across states, however recidivism is a huge problem among this population. With Florida, New York, and Virginia leading in rearrests according to the U.S. Department of Justice Juvenile Offenders and Victims 2006 National Report (see figure below).

Juvinele recidivism rates

High recidivism rates that were reported led me to question, what rehabilitation statutes and/or programs are put into place to help eradicate or at least decrease repetition of criminal behavior among juveniles?

As I researched  this topic I found a thorough meta-analyses that synthesized a review of effective and ineffective interventions aimed at decreasing recidivism in juveniles (Lipsey, 2009).

Lipsey identified seven intervention philosophies;

  1. Surveillance (close monitoring)
  2.  Deterrence (deter re-offenses by dramatizing negative consequences)
  3. Discipline (structured regimens)
  4. Restorative programs (repair harm done by offenders; restitution, mediation (apology by offender))
  5. Counseling and its variants (individual, family, group, peer, mentoring, mixed)
  6. Skill building programs (behavioral, cognitive, social, academic, and job skill training)
  7. Multiple coordinated services (case management, service broker, and multimodal regimen)

Lispsey’s meta-analyses revealed that:

Counseling interventions had the largest positive effects on recidivism decreasing it by 13%, followed by Multiple coordinated services (12%), and Skill building programs (12%). The counseling interventions that were most effective were group-based, mentoring focused, and those that had mixed combinations of various types of counseling.

Whereas, discipline interventions had the largest negative effects on recidivism with an increase of 8%, with deterrence interventions increasing recidivism by 2%.

This information was easy to find and is readily available for public and state use, but is it used? How many boot camp programs have you heard of? And “Scared Straight” programs (youth visiting prisons, deterrence) have become a norm, but what about its effectiveness.Would it make a difference if these interventions were run the same state by state, what do you think? What questions do you think we need to ask our juvenile justice system about their effectiveness to reduce recidivism among juvenile offenders?


Lipsey, M. 2009. The primary factors that characterized effective interventions with juvenile offenders: A meta-analytic overview. Victims & Offenders: An International Journal of Evidence-based Research, Policy, and Practice. 4(2) 124-147.

Snyder, H., and Sickmund, M. 2006. Juvenile offenders and victims: 2006 national report. U.S. Department of Justice. Office of Justice Programs. Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Programs.