Juvenile Justice:

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

GAO-10-133T: Published: Oct 20, 2009. Publicly Released: Oct 20, 2009.

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Eileen R. Larence
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This testimony discusses issues related to girls' delinquency--a topic that 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. 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, research on girls has highlighted that delinquent girls have higher rates of mental health problems than delinquent boys, receive fewer special services, and are more likely to abandon treatment programs. The Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) is the Department of Justice (DOJ) office charged with providing national leadership, coordination, and resources to prevent and respond to juvenile delinquency and victimization. OJJDP supports states and communities in their efforts to develop and implement effective programs to, among other things, prevent delinquency and intervene after a juvenile has offended. For example, from fiscal years 2007 through 2009, Congress provided OJJDP almost $1.1 billion to use for grants to states, localities, and organizations for a variety of juvenile justice programs, including programs for girls. Also, in support of this mission, the office funds research and program evaluations related to a variety of juvenile justice issues. 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, you asked us to review OJJDP's efforts related to studying and promoting effective girls' delinquency programs. We issued a report on the results of that review on July 24, 2009. This testimony highlights findings from that report and addresses (1) efforts OJJDP has made to assess the effectiveness of girls' delinquency programs, (2) the extent to which these efforts are consistent with generally accepted social science standards and federal standards to communicate with stakeholders, and (3) the findings from OJJDP's efforts and how the office plans to address the findings. This statement is based on our July report and selected updates made in October 2009.

With an overall goal of developing research that communities need to make sound decisions about how best to prevent and reduce girls' delinquency, OJJDP established the Girls Study Group (Study Group) 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). Objectives also included 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. 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. In addition, 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, such as practitioners operating programs. The Study Group found that few girls' delinquency programs had been studied and that the available studies lacked conclusive evidence of effective programs; as a result, OJJDP plans to provide technical assistance to help programs be better prepared for evaluations of their effectiveness. However, OJJDP could better address its girls' delinquency goals by more fully developing plans for supporting such evaluations.

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