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Improving the Effectiveness of Juvenile Justice Programs

Mark W. Lipsey, James C. Howell, Marion R. Kelly, Gabrielle Chapman, Darin Carver
December 16, 2010
This publication provides a new perspective on evidence-based practice in the field of juvenile justice. As Shay Bilchik, director of the Center for Juvenile Justice Reform and research professor at the Georgetown Public Policy Institute, says about the focus of the paper, “It is not just about evaluating programs, but ensuring that there is a sufficient array of programs available, that youth are matched to appropriate services based on risk and need and that services are evaluated to determine if we are achieving the outcomes the science tells us we should be able to realize.”

The paper presents a new approach to evidence-based practice that will produce better outcomes for youth involved in the juvenile justice system. The paper begins with an overview of the different approaches to evidence-based practice and introduces a tool Dr. Mark Lipsey has developed to better make use of the vast knowledge base. It then embeds this new approach within a comprehensive juvenile justice framework that will allow increased knowledge to benefit the entire juvenile justice continuum, rather than a handful programs serving a limited number of youth.

For years, states have struggled with how to implement the most effective treatment programs to reduce recidivism rates. As the authors state, “Translation of research into practice is always a challenge, but it has been exacerbated…by overly narrow conceptions of how research should be used to inform juvenile justice practice.” Several individual programs have been found to be successful and promoted by national organizations, but it is often difficult to replicate the circumstances that contributed to their effectiveness, they are costly to implement and they are often used to the detriment of local programs that produce positive outcomes, but do not have the research base to qualify as a “model program.” For these reasons, there has been a struggle in taking evidence-based practices to scale, and therefore, the scope of their benefits has been limited.

The framework for evidence-based practice described in this paper offers a solution by presenting a tool that can be used to measure the effectiveness of a variety of existing juvenile justice programs and provide recommendations on how to improve them.