The Virginia Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) and the Urban Institute (UI) seek to formalize and advance an existing collaborative relationship to inform critical decision-making regarding how to manage medium- and high-risk juvenile offenders with aggression treatment needs. A growing body of research provides empirical evidence that some interventions, such as those directed toward changing distorted or dysfunctional cognitions, teaching new cognitive skills, and developing reasoning about right and wrong behavior, can be effective. However, rigorous evaluations of such cognitive-behavioral interventions are scarce for serious juvenile offender populations, and relatively little is known as to how much and what aspects of cognitive-behavioral therapy should be embraced and for whom, to achieve the optimal outcomes for youth and a cost-effective resource allocation for juvenile justice agencies.
To this end, the proposed partnership will capitalize on the respective strengths and capabilities of UI and DJJ and conduct a rigorous, comprehensive evaluation on two nationally-acclaimed intervention programs, Aggression Replacement Training (ART) and Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT), in medium- and high-risk juvenile offenders admitted to the custody of DJJ. The study consists of both a process evaluation and an impact evaluation. The process/implementation evaluation will examine how the target interventions (ART and DBT) are delivered within secure juvenile correctional settings, including factors that facilitate or impede service delivery and fidelity to the selected curricula; semi-structured interviews with program and treatment staff and focus groups with youth participants will support the process component. The impact evaluation features experimental and quasi-experimental designs: the DBT pilot will be evaluated through a prospective RCT with block randomization, and DJJs business-as-usual treatment module (i.e., ART) will be evaluated through generalized propensity score methods. The impact evaluation will draw on administrative data and youth self-reports collected via repeated self-administered questionnaires and will be supplemented by cost-effectiveness analysis that will provide practical guidance on resource allocation.
The project team will employ a multi-pronged approach to disseminating research findings, which include the development of a whitepaper, a policy brief, and academic journal articles, and the presentation of research findings and policy recommendations at professional conferences.