Juvenile Justice:

Technical Assistance and Better Defined Evaluation Plans Will Help to Improve Girls' Delinquency Programs

GAO-09-721R: Published: Jul 24, 2009. Publicly Released: Jul 24, 2009.

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Girls' delinquency has attracted the attention of federal, state, and local policymakers for more than a decade as girls have increasingly become involved in the juvenile justice system. For example, from 1995 through 2005, delinquency caseloads for girls in juvenile justice courts nationwide increased 15 percent while boys' caseloads decreased by 12 percent. Also, from 1995 through 2005, the number of girls' cases nationwide involving detention increased 49 percent compared to a 7 percent increase for boys. More recently, in 2007, 29 percent of juvenile arrests--about 641,000 arrests--involved girls, who accounted for 17 percent of juvenile violent crime arrests and 35 percent of juvenile property crime arrests. Further, in a 2007 survey of states conducted by the Federal Advisory Committee on Juvenile Justice, 22 states listed girls' delinquency as an issue affecting their states' juvenile justice systems. State justice officials responding to the survey noted that juvenile female offenses have increased sharply and also noted that juvenile female offenders generally had more serious and wide-ranging service needs than juvenile male offenders, including treatment for substance abuse and mental health conditions. As programs have been developed at the state and local levels in recent years that specifically target preventing girls' delinquency or intervening after girls have become involved in the juvenile justice system, it is important that agencies providing grants and practitioners operating the programs have information about which of these programs are effective. In this way, agencies can help to ensure that limited federal, state, and local funds are well spent. In general, effectiveness is determined through program evaluations, which are systematic studies conducted to assess how well a program is working--that is, whether a program produced its intended effects. To help ensure that grant funds are being used effectively, Congress asked us to review OJJDP's efforts related to studying and promoting effective girls' delinquency programs. This report addresses the following questions: 1. What efforts, if any, has OJJDP made to assess the effectiveness of girls' delinquency programs? 2. To what extent are OJJDP's efforts to assess girls' delinquency programs consistent with generally accepted social science standards and the internal control standard to communicate with external stakeholders? 3. What are the findings from OJJDP's efforts to assess the effectiveness of girls' delinquency programs, and how, if at all, does OJJDP plan to address the findings from these efforts?

To assess the effectiveness of girls' delinquency programs, OJJDP established the Girls Study Group (Study Group). With an overall goal of developing research that communities need to make sound decisions about how best to prevent and reduce girls' delinquency, the Study Group was established in 2004 under a $2.6 million multiyear cooperative agreement with a research institute. OJJDP's objectives for the group, among others, included identifying effective or promising programs, program elements, and implementation principles (i.e., guidelines for developing programs) and developing program models to help inform communities of what works in preventing or reducing girls' delinquency; identifying gaps in girls' delinquency research and developing recommendations for future research; and disseminating findings to the girls' delinquency field about effective or promising programs. To meet OJJDP's objectives, among other things, the Study Group identified studies of delinquency programs that specifically targeted girls. The group then assessed the methodological quality of the studies using a set of criteria developed by DOJ's Office of Justice Programs (OJP) called What Works to determine whether the studies provided credible evidence that the programs were effective at preventing or responding to girls' delinquency. OJJDP's effort to assess girls' delinquency programs through the use of a study group and the group's methods for assessing studies were consistent with generally accepted social science research practices and standards, and OJJDP's efforts to involve practitioners in Study Group activities and disseminate findings were also consistent with the internal control standard to communicate with external stakeholders.

Recommendation for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) developed and implemented a plan that articulates how the office intends to respond to the program findings of the Girls Study group. Two key elements of this plan are evaluations of girls' delinquency programs and development of a girls' institute. To implement the plan, OJJDP issued solicitations for these efforts that included time frames and planned funding, including multiple awards of between $200,000 and $400,000 during a three-year period for evaluations of girls' delinquency programs and as much as $1.5 million for the girls' institute over a three-year period. In developing the plan, OJJDP shared it with key stakeholders through the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking process. Additionally, when we met with OJJDP on March 12, 2010, they stated that they reached out to contacts on their e-mail listserves, including practitioners and state juvenile delinquency officials. In addition, OJJDP staff spoke about the plan at public meetings and briefed the Federal Advisory Committee on Juvenile Justice regarding the proposed plan. According to OJJDP officials, stakeholders provided more than 170 comments on what elements to include or not include in the plan. In developing the final plan, OJJDP will either accept the comments or explain to stakeholders why the comments were not accepted. As a result, this recommendation is closed as implemented.

    Recommendation: To help ensure that OJJDP meets its goals to identify effective or promising girls' delinquency programs and supports the development of program models, the Administrator of OJJDP should develop and document a plan that (1) articulates how the office intends to respond to the program findings of the Study Group, (2) includes time frames and specific funding requirements and commitments, and (3) is shared with key stakeholders.

    Agency Affected: Department of Justice: Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention


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