By Rebecca A. Clay
“For many young offenders, moving
up from the juvenile justice system
to the full-fledged prison system is
a rite of passage,” explained
Christine Urban, L.M.H.C., C.A.S.A.C.
“These kids are often second-
or third-generation offenders; their
fathers and grandfathers spent time
in prison,” she continued. “They don’t know any different.” Ms.
Urban is Vice President of Programs
and Services at Huther-Doyle Memorial
Institute, Inc., in Rochester, NY.
Teaching young offenders something
different is the aim of the program
Ms. Urban and her colleagues run with
support from SAMHSA’s Center
for Substance Abuse Treatment (CSAT).
The New York institute is 1 of 23 grantees
around the country that are part of
the Young Offender Reentry Program
(YORP), launched by CSAT in 2004 and 2005.
The program allows grantees to expand
or enhance substance abuse treatment
and other services for juvenile and
young adult offenders who are returning
to the community following incarceration
in juvenile detention centers, jail,
or prison. The goal is to treat substance
abuse and reduce the chances that these
youth will commit more crimes.
“If you can intervene when offenders
are still young,” said CSAT Director
H. Westley Clark, M.D., J.D., M.P.H., “you
can break the cycle.”
A Growing Problem
Approximately 100,000 youth leave
secure residential facilities and return
home to their communities each year,
according to estimates from the U.S.
Department of Justice’s Office
of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency
For many of these young offenders,
freedom is short-lived. According to
OJJDP, 63 percent of them will commit
an offense again before they’ve
even passed the 1-year mark.
Substance abuse plays a big role in
“There’s a real strong
correlation between drugs and crime,
one that has been established in study
after study for about 40 years now,” said
Kenneth W. Robertson, Team Leader of
the Criminal Justice Grant Programs
in CSAT’s Division of Services
Improvement. “About 60 to 70
percent of youth who are involved in
criminal activity are also involved
in substance abuse.”
Yet only 1 in 10 young offenders have
access to substance abuse treatment,
Even if young people can get treatment
while incarcerated, it doesn’t
do much good if that treatment stops
the moment they walk out their door. “Research
shows that no matter how effective
substance treatment is in the correctional
system, the effects are very quickly
lost if it’s not followed up
with treatment in the community,” said
Public Health Adviser George Samayoa,
M.D., C.A.S., Dr.D.F.C., of CSAT’s
Division of Services Improvement.
That kind of followup is just what
SAMHSA’s Young Offender Reentry
Program is designed to do. “We
want a seamless continuum of care,
not young people receiving treatment
in prison and then being released into
the community and needing to find their
own way to be screened, assessed, and
placed into treatment,” said
The work begins even before the young
offenders are released and continues
for months after they’ve returned
home. In addition to arranging substance
abuse treatment, the grantees make
sure the youth have the skills they
need to succeed in life—everything
from how to write a resume to how to
be good parents in the future.
The program even provides things as
basic as something to eat or a place
to stay for those who need it.
“These young people go out into
a world they may not have seen for 3, 4, even 5 years,” said Dr.
Clark. “When they come out,
Having an Impact
Thanks to the program, however, these
young offenders are now finding their
Nationwide, grantees have followup
data on 721 of the young people they
have served. These young offenders
have made progress in several key areas.
percentage of clients who reported
that they hadn’t
used alcohol or illegal drugs within
the last month dropped 12 percent
between intake and a 6-month followup.
At intake, 76 percent of clients
were using alcohol or illegal drugs;
6 months later, 67 percent were.
percentage of clients reporting that
they were currently employed or in
school increased 2 percent, going
from 57 percent at intake to 59 percent
at the 6-month followup.
Stable housing. The percentage
of clients reporting that they had
a permanent place to live jumped dramatically,
increasing by 103 percent. At intake,
only 20 percent of clients had stable
housing; 6 months later, that percentage
had increased to 41 percent.
The percentage of clients who reported
feeling socially connected to their
family and friends, participating in
self-help groups, attending religious
services, and the like—stayed
steady. At both intake and followup,
the percentage reporting social connectedness
was 80 percent.
Gang Activity May Skew Data
Regional variations may skew the YORP
data on recidivism, said Dr. Samayoa. “During
the period the data were collected,
there was a big increase in gang activity
in the Southwest,” he explained. “Many
of the clients are gang members, and
the peer pressure is very high. Some
of these kids are forced to participate
in criminal activities with the gangs
or suffer the consequences.”
With those numbers in mind, said Dr.
Samayoa, the program’s overall
outcomes show less than positive impact
on recidivism. In fact, the percentage
of clients reporting that they had
not been arrested in the last month
actually decreased slightly. At intake,
92 percent had no past-month arrests;
6 months later, that number had dropped
to 87 percent.
In other parts of the country, especially
the East Coast, the data are much more
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