Sunday, April 05, 2020

From Behind Bars - Ending Mass Incarceration, Part 2


ADECA - Juvenile Justice
Image from Alabama Dept. of  Economic Affairs
By Michael Liebowitz
A Connecticut prisoner for nearly 25 years, Liebowitz is currently housed at Osborn Correctional Institution in Somers, CT.  He is also co-author of "Down the Rabbit Hole: How the Culture of Corrections Encourages Crime", available at Amazon.  Liebowitz is also a regular guest with Todd Feinburg on WTIC AM 1080.  Podcasts of Todd's segments with Liebowitz can be heard, here.

Widespread Implementation of Functional Family Therapy (FFT) and Multi-Systemic Therapy (MST)
Hold Juveniles Accountable
         
Perhaps the best way to reduce crime is to intervene in the lives of at-risk and delinquent youths to prevent them from becoming full-blown adult criminals.  Fortunately, there are two cost-effective programs that have been shown to reduce juvenile delinquency: Functional Family Therapy (FFT) and Multi-Systemic Therapy (MST).  Let’s look at each of these.
There is an abundance of evidence indicating familial relationships have a significant effect on both the formation and continuance of juvenile delinquency.  Thus, if the goal is to reduce such delinquency, it makes sense to target the entire family for intervention.  This is precisely what FFT does.
“[FFT] … is a structured, family-based intervention that uses a multi-step approach to enhance protective factors and reduce risk factors in the family.”  Addressed to medium-risk youths between 10 and 18 and to their families, it attempts to change the way family members communicate with one another and thereby improve relationships within the family.  The FFT therapist seeks to identify the “functions” a youth’s antisocial behaviors serve, as well as the functions the other family members’ problem behaviors serve and it attempts to show them how to satisfy these needs/wants with more productive behaviors.

FFT employs an eclectic approach consisting of techniques taken from behavioral and cognitive behavioral therapy, as well as family systems approaches.  It lasts between three and five months and consists of 12 to 14 visits.  It is highly cost-effective at $3,531 per participant, with an anticipated benefit of $27,844.  Thus, benefits minus costs equal $24,313 per participant, with a 96% chance that benefits will exceed costs.  (Figures based on Washington State Institute for Public Policy report, Benefit-Cost Results, Functional Family Therapy for Youth on Probation study, updated December 2018.)
Created in the 1970s, MST is an intense program for youths ages 12 – 17 who have severe behavioral problems.  The theoretical roots of the program are social, ecological and pragmatic family systems theories.  At-risk youths are seen as belonging to numerous interconnected “systems” that exhibit a reciprocal influence on one another.  These systems include the youth’s family, friends, school and community.  “… youth behavior problems are viewed as maintained by problematic transactions within, and/or between, any one or combination of these systems.”   All four of these areas serve as targets for intervention.
As a part of MST, therapists basically embed themselves within the family, allowing them to see how family members interact with each other. Particularly important is for therapists to mark the strengths the family already has.  These strengths can then be built upon to improve family interactions.
An evidence-based program, MST addresses factors known to influence antisocial behavior in youths.  Therapists provide individual and family counseling, implementing strategies from pragmatic, problem-focused, cognitive-behavioral, and family systems approaches.  Interventions take pace in the homes and communities of the youths and typically last between three and five months.  Among the goals of MST are to get kids to distance themselves from antisocial peers and activities, replace them with their pro-social counterparts, and to teach parents to employ more effective disciplinary strategies that make better use of rewards and punishments.
In randomized trials, MST has been shown to reduce re-arrests over the long term.  It has been effective with serious felony offenders including drug, violent, and sex offenders.  Gains from treatment have been demonstrated to be intact after 13 years following an intervention.  It costs $7,933 per participant and produces benefits of $14,134, for benefits minus costs equaling $6,161.  The chances that benefits will exceed costs are 76%. (Figures based on Washington State Institute for Public Policy report, Benefit-Cost Results, Multi-Systemic Therapy study, updated December 2018.)
Of course, these programs don’t operate in a vacuum.  They take place in a context in which juveniles know further misbehavior will result in adverse consequences for themselves.  It is therefore imperative that there be the potential for such consequences; otherwise, the youths will have no real incentive to change.

The value structures of delinquents are such that they already find their way of life rewarding

I know that many of you probably believe the incentive already exists in the form of the rewards a pro-social life has to offer.  It’s important to keep in mind, however, that all behavior, delinquent and pro-social alike, “works” on some level for the person engaging in it.  The value structures of delinquents are such that they already find their way of life rewarding; the only way they’ll be willing to engage in the Herculean effort that reform requires is if their cost-benefit assessment changes.  And the only way this can happen is if they are made aware of the real possibility of punishment.
These punishments should be graduated.  Perhaps they could begin with grounding, moving up to community service, probation, house arrest, and in the case of serious of repeat offenders, a period of incarceration.  If incarceration does become necessary it should take place in an environment where staff enforce the rules in a firm, fair and consistent manner, rewarding good conduct and punishing bad.  The kids should be required to attend school and participate in programs proven to reduce recidivism, such as Aggression Replacement Training.  For more information, see the charts below this article.
I firmly believe that implementing FFT and MST on a large scale and holding juveniles accountable for their actions will greatly reduce juvenile crime.  Perhaps more importantly, we will remove many kids from the path leading to a criminal career and instead place them on one leading to happy, productive lives.


Typed from the author's hand written essay by Linda Johnson and edited by William Boylan, Editor-in-Chief.

Part 1 of this series, "Ending the War on Drugs", can be read, here.

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