Examining What Works for Youth With Moderate Risk Involved With the Juvenile Justice System: Comparing the Effect of the Community Connections Program and a Vocational Support Program Over a 9-Year Time Period

Published date01 April 2021
Date01 April 2021
Subject MatterArticles
Criminal Justice Policy Review
2021, Vol. 32(3) 300 –325
© The Author(s) 2020
Article reuse guidelines:
DOI: 10.1177/0887403420916222
Examining What Works for
Youth With Moderate Risk
Involved With the Juvenile
Justice System: Comparing
the Effect of the Community
Connections Program and a
Vocational Support Program
Over a 9-Year Time Period
Erin M. Espinosa1, Dan Sass2,
Johanna Creswell Báez3, and Cassandra Harper4
Using administrative data from an urban juvenile probation department between
January 2007 and August 2016, the study included youth who were placed on court-
ordered postadjudication community supervision and who were deemed to have
a moderate risk of reoffending by the department’s risk and needs assessment.
The two programs evaluated include a vocational support program (VSP) and the
Community Connections program (CC). Youth across both groups were matched
using propensity score matching, creating a final sample of 301 individual youth per
program. When examining the program effect of CC versus VSP across six time-to-
event variables (i.e., time to second program, detention, out-of-home placement,
another offense, violation of court order, and days in program), the findings were
mixed. However, across both programs, analyses revealed youth with a successful
discharge and longer time spent in their program had better outcomes.
1National Council on Crime and Delinquency, Oakland, CA, USA
2University of Texas at San Antonio, USA
3Columbia University, New York, NY, USA
4Southwest Key Programs, Austin, TX, USA
Corresponding Author:
Erin M. Espinosa, National Council on Crime and Delinquency, 520 3rd Street, Suite 101, Oakland,
CA 94607, USA.
Email: EEspinosa@NCCDglobal.org
916222CJPXXX10.1177/0887403420916222Criminal Justice Policy ReviewEspinosa et al.
Espinosa et al. 301
juvenile justice, community programing, diversion
Adolescents generally lack the capacity for self-regulation in emotionally charged
situations (Somerville et al., 2011), have a heightened sensitivity to external influences
(Gardner & Steinberg, 2005) and show reduced ability in making judgments and deci-
sions requiring consideration for future implications of those decisions (Steinberg,
2009). The combination of these factors can be causally related to adolescents engag-
ing in risky behaviors, especially those with a high likelihood of immediate satisfac-
tion or reward (Steinberg & Scott, 2003). Steinberg (2009) found the tendency to act
on this risky behavior increases by one third of a standard deviation between ages 10
and 16 and then decreases by one half of a standard deviation by age 26.
Subsequently, adolescence is often defined as a time when youths learn to pause or
curb their impulsive behavior, consider the future impact of their decisions, and func-
tion autonomously in the world (Steinberg & Caufman, 1996). Involvement with the
juvenile justice system negatively impacts positive psychosocial development, and
youth who are removed from their homes have been shown to face increased risks for
violence, destructive behavior, and engaging in delinquent activity (Duke et al., 2010).
Recidivism studies have shown youth returning from juvenile justice placements have
re-arrest rates ranging from 40% (Taylor et al., 2009) and 65% (Benda et al., 2001) to
as high as 85% (Trulson et al., 2005).
Community Success and Juvenile Justice-Involved Youth
Youth involved with the juvenile justice system who are supported by community-
based services have lower re-offense rates than youth who are not supported by com-
munity-based services (Cuellar et al., 2006). These youth have lower rates of pretrial
detention (Cuellar et al., 2006), fewer follow-up arrests (Cuellar et al., 2004), and are
less likely to be adjudicated or placed deeper within the juvenile justice system
(Colwell et al., 2012).
System reformers have targeted deinstitutionalization, alternatives to detention,
and deeper system involvement through community-based diversion for justice-
involved youth (Bishop & Decker, 2006; Loeb et al., 2015; McAra & McVie, 2007).
Focusing on the balance between accountability for delinquent acts and rehabilitation
(Beck et al., 2006; Mackin et al., 2010), community-based programs serve as an alter-
native to traditional disposition or system processing options (Harris et al., 2011; Leve
& Chamberlain, 2005). These programs vary in their design and approach (Hamilton
et al., 2007) depending on the type of program (Hoge, 2016; Mears et al., 2016), the
risk level of the youth (Vincent et al., 2012), and the intercept point in the juvenile
justice system process where the program is used or introduced as a delinquency inter-
vention (Cocozza et al., 2005).

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