Communities seeking to reduce juvenile violence have a new and practical alternative to building more prisons, according to the Center for the Study and Prevention of Violence at the University of Colorado at Boulder.
"After reviewing over 400 violence prevention programs, we have identified 10 programs that meet the highest scientific standards for demonstrating that they can successfully prevent or reduce levels of violence," said Delbert Elliott, a national authority on juvenile delinquency and a CU-Boulder sociology professor.
The programs will be made available to communities across the nation through a series of 10 handbooks called "Blueprints for Violence Prevention." The handbooks, each 65 pages to 100 pages long, will provide the information that a community or agency needs to replicate a proven violence-reduction program. The first two "Blueprints" are available and all 10 will be published within a year.
The two available now are Big Brothers Big Sisters of America and the Midwestern Prevention Project.
"We're finally at a stage where we can say 'Here are some things that work, let's invest in these strategies,' " Elliott said. "We have to have prisons, but that's not where we should be putting most of our money."
The Blueprints for Violence Prevention program was funded by the Colorado Division of Criminal Justice, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta and the Pennsylvania Council on Crime and Delinquency.
Researchers from a variety of organizations evaluated the hundreds of violence prevention programs by a set of strict criteria including documented evidence in reducing violence, criminal activity or substance abuse. All three types of behavior are tightly linked with each other and programs effective in deterring any one of these behaviors are likely to be effective for the others as well.
CU-Boulder researchers then reviewed all the published evaluations and selected 10 which met three criteria of effectiveness: the programs demonstrated reductions in violence, deviance or substance use with a careful experimental study; showed sustained impact for at least one year after participants left the program; and had been successfully replicated at multiple sites with diverse populations.
The 10 "Blueprints" programs which met all or most of these criteria are:
Prenatal and Infancy Home Visitation by Nurses
Bullying Prevention Program
Promoting Alternative Thinking Strategies
Big Brothers Big Sisters of America
Quantum Opportunities Program
Functional Family Therapy
Midwestern Prevention Project
Life Skills Training
Multidemensional Treatment Foster Care
"We now have an alternative to locking kids up," said Elliott. "We didn't have that second choice of a proven effective prevention program until now."
The option didn't exist before because most researchers have been unable to demonstrate which, if any, violence prevention programs are effective, he said. In the last five years, researchers have identified a few programs that they believe work, but none of these reviews of effective programs has had standards as high as the Blueprints program.
"We've been careful in making these recommendations," he said. "As a result, we think these Blueprints programs could provide a core set of programs on which a national violence prevention initiative could be built."
The nation's current approach to the problem of juvenile violence has been to charge younger offenders as adults -- even those who are 12 or 14 years old -- and to lock them up for longer periods of time.
"It satisfies people's sense of justice and it satisfies, temporarily, the public safety issue," Elliott said. "But in the long run all the evidence indicates that we are turning them into better criminals. And it's the long-range prospects that are frightening."
Each Blueprint handbook includes the costs of implementing the program and potential problems that may be encountered. In addition to reducing juvenile violence, some programs have other beneficial effects, such as reductions in drug use, teen pregnancy and school dropouts.
"To make an informed decision about what is best for your community or your state -- there is no document that does what a Blueprint does," he said.
Blueprints for Violence Prevention will be distributed to social service agencies, selected libraries, government agencies and community groups interested in violence, crime and drug prevention. They will be available to any interested persons through the center for $10 each. Summaries of each program also will be posted on the Internet at www.colorado.edu/cspv.
For more information call (303) 492-1032 or write the Center for the Study and Prevention of Violence, University of Colorado at Boulder, Campus Box 442, Boulder, CO 80309.