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Juvenile Justice Programs, Practices, & Policies

In this post, we will look at juvenile justice programs, practices, and policies. Each of these terms plays a different role within the juvenile justice system.


A program in juvenile justice is a designed package that has clear procedures for delivery, has manuals and provides technical assistance. In addition, the outcome is commonly related to some sort of change such as recidivism. Two commonly implemented programs are multisystemic therapy and functional family therapy.


Another key aspect of a program within juvenile justice is recidivism. Programs are generally designed for specific use through the use of a logic model. A logic model is a visual depiction that shows the relationship among the resources, activities, outcomes, and outputs of a program. In other forms of social science research, the logic model is called a conceptual framework however these two concepts are not exactly the same. Logic models depict relationships while conceptual frameworks are a proposed theory that is attempting explain why certain outcomes take place.


PRactices in juvenile justice are not as clearly defined as programs are. In general, practices in juvenile justice are essentially programs that are more flexible in their application and use. For example, the design may not be as rigorous and the instructions made not be as detailed.

Due to their more flexible nature practices are often more general in nature and can thus be applied in different situations. To make things more confusing some programs are considered practices if they are more flexible than highly controlled programs. One common practice is the Treatment in Secure Corrections for Serious Juvenile Offenders.


Policies are regulations that apply to the general population. Policies generally lack empirical evidence for their usefulness in supporting youth. However, policies do provide guidance and structure which shows that they serve a different role than what is found with programs and practices.

Evaluating Programs and Practices

There are times when programs and practices are evaluated for their usefulness. Below are some commonly used ways to evaluate programs and practices.

One way to evaluate a program is the quality of the evidence or data. For example, randomized controlled experiments are considered the gold standard. Therefore, other methods of collecting data such as quasi-experiments and surveys will affect the perceived quality of a program.

A second criterion is looking at the quality and extensiveness of the research of the program. What this means is the quality and quantity of research that has assessed the value of a program. If a program has multiple studies that are a witness to its worthiness and these studies are of high quality it raises the value of this program.

A third criterion is the expected impact of a program. By expected impact, it is meant the effect size. The effect size is something that is extracted in the data analysis aspect of a study and helps to provide a number of the impact of a study. Programs with stronger effect sizes are seen as better.

Finally, another criterion for program/practice quality is the adoption rate. In other words, how many other people are using the program/practice? Tracking adoption is higher but there are program registries that have vetted programs and recommend them. Examples of program registries include crimesolutions and blueprints. Both of these registries have graded programs and provide links to studies about the programs.


Programs, practices, and policies all play a critical role in helping youth in the juvenile justice system. People who work within this system need to be aware of the meaning of these terms as well as how to judge good from bad programs. 

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