September 26, 2013

New evaluation process offers better outcomes for juvenile offenders

Peabody researchers are partnering with juvenile justice systems around the country to improve outcomes for young offenders.

Mark Lipsey (Daniel Dubois/Vanderbilt)

Vanderbilt University researchers are partnering with juvenile justice systems around the country using a tool they have developed to evaluate the potential of delinquency intervention programs to reduce recidivism—in hopes of improving outcomes for young offenders.

“The implementation of this tool could positively affect the lives of young people under court supervision and in youth prisons and reformatories who are in dire need of effective interventions,” Mark Lipsey, research professor in Human and Organizational Development, director of the Peabody Research Institute, said. “A lot of teens make bad choices and end up in the justice system, but only a very small number of them are potential career criminals. We need to be sure the programs in place are effective in keeping them out of further trouble.”

In the new partnership, the Juvenile Justice Reform and Reinvestment Initiative (JJRRI), Lipsey and his colleagues are drawing on the results of more than 20 years of meta-analysis on interventions for juvenile offenders.

Thanks to a grant opportunity offered by the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, a division of the U.S. Department of Justice, three pilot sites—Iowa, Delaware and Milwaukee County, Wis.,—are participating in the JJRRI three-year partnership with Peabody. This initiative adds to the work underway with other juvenile justice systems in Connecticut, Florida, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Tennessee.

Lipsey and research associate Gabrielle Chapman are working closely with juvenile justice administrators at these sites to implement an evaluation scheme called the Standardized Program Evaluation Protocol (SPEP) that charts the effectiveness of the treatment programs in use for juvenile offenders. The SPEP draws on Lipsey’s meta-analysis of more than 600 studies of interventions with juvenile offenders, the largest resource on this topic in the world.

“The SPEP process is not a one-and-done evaluation tool; it is an evaluation process that is designed to be sustainable,” Chapman said. “Once the SPEP process is in place, the juvenile programs are involved in an ongoing evaluation and improvement strategy.”

“I’ve been talking about and studying juvenile justice programs for years, so it’s exciting to be able to translate all this research into practice,” said Lipsey, who is the 2013 recipient of the August Vollmer Award, which recognizes a criminologist or senior scholar whose research has contributed to the treatment or prevention of criminal or delinquent behavior. It will be presented to Lipsey at the meeting of the American Society of Criminology in November.

The Peabody Research Institute’s mission is to conduct research aimed at improving the effectiveness of programs for children, youth and families, using field research, program evaluation and research synthesis.