Treating Youth in Conflict with the Law: A New Meta-Analysis

Executive Summary

This paper provides a meta-analytical synthesis of the existing literature on the effectiveness of treating youth in conflict with the law. The data were aggregated from studies directly measuring the effect of treatment on recidivism and other key outcomes using control/comparison groups.   The results provide direction to key decision-makers, program developers and program funders based on the accumulation of knowledge from almost 200 treatment programs dealing directly with youth engaged in criminal behaviour.   In general, providing treatment to youth in conflict with the law does have an impact on the likelihood of future criminal behaviour.   The findings suggest, however, that various issues surrounding the program (e.g., integrity, dosage and targets) and its clients (e.g., age and risk) substantially affect its therapeutic potential.

In summary, the following are empirically-based recommendations that emerged directly from the results of this meta-analysis and demonstrate reductions in re-offending among youth in conflict with the law:

  1. conduct the treatment in a therapeutic environment using multiple forms of counselling (individual, group and family);
  2. screen youth for anger issues and provide an anger management component where suitable;
  3. directly involve educators within the treatment program and directly target school performance and attendance where necessary;
  4. target anti-social attitudes in treatment including encouraging respect for authority and for the institutions of the criminal justice system;
  5. develop cognitive skills in the youth in order to improve problem solving, perspective taking and goal setting;
  6. enhance social skills including communication strategies and the ability to work within groups (e.g., giving and receiving feedback);
  7. encourage and teach positive communication (e.g., warm, respectful, honest) within families;
  8. provided parents with the appropriate skills to monitor and supervise youth;
  9. increase the employment potential of the youth (where maturity and external obligations permit) by offering specific vocational training and provide general skills such as resume writing and interviewing for acquiring and maintaining gainful employment;
  10. limit the program length to six months and provide a maximum of 20 hours of program exposure for low risk offenders and increase the treatment dosage for high risk offenders;
  11. develop program manuals, provide staff training and supervision, and measure program compliance;
  12. attempt to provide suitable interventions earlyin the lives of youth in conflict with the law;
  13. encourage meaningful and substantial family involvement in the program;
  14. attempt to involve the community (e.g., police, non-governmental organizations, community leaders) within the treatment program where appropriate; and,
  15. address ambiguous and less promising treatment targets (anti-social peers, relapse prevention, community functioning, substance abuse, psychological well-being, leisure/recreation) and other non-criminogenic needs when deemed appropriate on a case by case basis.
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