Treatment-based Approaches to Juvenile Crime: Effects on Re-Arrest

Monday, June 13, 2016: 1:55 PM
F55 (Huntsman Hall)

Author(s): Alison Cuellar; Dhaval Dave

Discussant: Yu-Wei Luke Chu

One significant policy issue is how best policymakers should respond to juvenile crime.  Once delinquent youth are indentified by the justice system, key sanctioning alternatives include minimal or no supervision, a range of community services, or incarceration. One community option is mental health treatment.  To date, very few studies assessed medical treatment as an alternative to other traditional forms of sanctioning.

For youth with relatively significant mental health and behavior problems, who may have a lengthy history of serious behavior and family troubles, particular programs have been developed.  These intervention programs are relatively intensive and costly, as much as $7,000 per treated youth.  Yet they have the potential to reduce social costs across a variety of dimensions, including recidivism.

This study uses a unique state-wide, multi-year merged data set of juvenile court administrative data, youth screening and assessment data, and education data which are linked at the person-level.  The screening data include rich information on juvenile’s family, school, employment, mental health, and substance use. The justice data include arrest, type of offense, and type of sanction, including dates.  The education data include completion of high school and GED, advancement, transfers, drop-out status, cumulative GPA and selected test scores. 

 Our approach relies on a unique natural experiment afforded by discontinuous treatment allocation rules, which we exploit along with the rich information in the administrative records to identify the causal effects of treatment.  In our study context treatment services are delivered to youth in the juvenile justice system based on fixed assessment scores.  Although the agency refers designated justice-involved teens for treatment, the treatment itself is delivered in the community.  Even when youth are found to be eligible, not all youth are assigned to treatment as they may refuse to participate or treatment slots may not be available.  We compare youth just below and above the eligibility cut-offs on the assumption that youth just above and below the cut-off are similar along many relevant dimensions, an assumption which we are able to test with respect to observable characteristics.