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SAMHSA News - May/June 2008, Volume 16, Number 3

Helping Young Offenders Return to Communities (Part 2)

In Upstate New York: Success

In Rochester, Huther-Doyle Memorial Institute has seen recidivism rates plummet. According to Ms. Urban, the recidivism rate was 80 percent before the Young Offender Reentry Program came along. Today, the rate is just 14 percent for the 18- to 24-year-olds the Rochester program targets.

Even better, Ms. Urban added, when clients are arrested again, it’s typically for less serious crimes than whatever it was that got them incarcerated in the first place.

“My glass is always half full,” said Ms. Urban, noting that committing a minor crime rather than a major one is a step in the right direction even if the client lands back in jail. “One of the things this program has done is to keep these young people from graduating to the big leagues, where they end up going to prison.”

The program’s case managers begin working with youth 3 to 6 months before their release. In addition to conducting assessments, the case managers analyze each client’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats.

Together the case manager and client then develop a transition plan based on that analysis. “The transition plan is a roadmap for what they need to do when they get out,” explained Ms. Urban. “That way they know what’s going to happen—even where they’re going to get their first meal.”

Building trusting relationships among offenders and the five case managers is another emphasis of pre-release activities. There are basketball teams and current event groups. The project coordinator working onsite at the jail has even created a newsletter highlighting the young offenders’ progress, poetry, and artwork. Noting that many participants are gang members, Ms. Urban explains that the goal is to create an alternative family.

The moment the young people are released, the case managers jump into action. “Case managers pick them up on release day, whether it’s 6 in the morning or midnight,” explained Ms. Urban. The client then spends up to a year in the program, earning a GED, getting substance abuse or mental health treatment, learning how to interview for a job—whatever will help them stay out of trouble.

“We want to show them that there’s something other than selling drugs and hanging out on the street corner,” said Ms. Urban.

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In Florida: Recovery Begins Right Away

In Pinellas Park, FL, Operation PAR, Inc., is having a big impact on the 14- to 18-year-old offenders it serves.

Working closely with the agency that oversees young offenders’ probation and aftercare requirements, Operation PAR starts its Young Offender Reentry Program as soon as teens are released.

The results are impressive, said Tommi L. Leveille, Administrator of Research and Evaluation at Operation PAR. For youth who complete the full 8 to 12 weeks of treatment, more than 50 percent were in recovery at the 6-month followup. Of those who completed only part of the treatment, the recovery rate was only 20 percent.

Even more importantly, youth who completed the program had much lower recidivism rates, Ms. Leveille said. A total of 54 percent of those who completed the program had managed to stay out of trouble by the 6-month followup, compared to just 30 percent of those who completed only part of the treatment.

A continuous feedback loop helps. At the beginning, for instance, the program’s three counselors had a hard time persuading families to let them come to their homes for family therapy and case management. The problem, it turned out, was the use of the word “home visits,” which is what the state’s child welfare department calls its investigations. Changing the terminology to “touching base” or “dropping by” was enough to improve engagement, explained Ms. Leveille.

“These adolescents have spent anywhere from 1 to 5 years in the juvenile justice system and aren’t equipped with the skills they need to live successful lives,” Ms. Leveille said. “We teach them the skills they need.”

For more information on criminal justice programs at SAMHSA, visit

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