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Drug Testing for Youthful Offenders on Parole: An Experimental Evaluation

NCJ Number
Criminology & Public Policy Volume: 1 Issue: 2 Dated: March 2002 Pages: 217-244
Date Published
28 pages

This study examined parole outcomes and arrests for youthful offenders in California.


The California Youth Authority (CYA) is the State-level placement option for juvenile offenders and is intended for young offenders who require treatment or control that cannot be provided locally. Core treatment programs in the CYA are designed to overcome deficits in education, employment skills, and basic social skills. The prevalence of substance abuse problems in the population is very high. The CYA uses a general “graduated sanction” approach to respond to technical violations of parole, including positive drug tests. The sample included all wards released to parole over the course of 10 months. Selection ran from November 1992 through August 1993 with 1,958 wards included in the study. Outcome measures focused specifically on hypothesized public safety benefits of drug testing: parole adjustment and criminal behavior. This study provided experimental evidence that the variations in drug testing frequencies that can be implemented as a part of regular parole did not produce expected behavioral differences among serious young offenders. Little crime-reduction benefit of drug testing appeared to occur above a minimum level for regular parolees. It appears that agencies that choose to include drug testing in their aftercare programs could do so with a minimum of testing. The high overall levels of recidivism found attest to the challenge these chronic young offenders pose to rehabilitative programming. The relatively low rate of positive tests suggests that drug use was not a major contributor to the high levels of recidivism. The results suggest that drug testing has value for risk assessment and agencies may wish to consider testing for this purpose. Monitoring and accountability also provide some rationale for drug testing in community supervision. 4 figures, 7 tables, 3 footnotes, 38 references

Date Published: January 1, 2002