U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government, Department of Justice.

NCJRS Virtual Library

The Virtual Library houses over 235,000 criminal justice resources, including all known OJP works.
Click here to search the NCJRS Virtual Library

Knowledge Brief: How Can We Know If Juvenile Justice Reforms Are Worth the Cost?

NCJ Number
Sara Heller; Jans Ludwig; Thomas Miles; Jonathan Guryan
Date Published
December 2011
4 pages
This policy-brief summarizes the benefit-cost analysis of juvenile justice reforms intended to make juvenile detention more productive by creating residential centers that provide youths with group-based cognitive-behavioral therapy.
Although the United States relies on detention more than other nations as a way to control juvenile delinquency and crime, research now shows that detention by itself does not address the underlying problems that influence youths to engage in delinquent behavior. Specifically, it does not address the skill deficits that are strongly correlated with delinquency, such as difficulties with self-regulation, impulse control, social information processing, and moral reasoning. This benefit-cost analysis (BCA) presents preliminary findings for therapeutic reforms underway at the Cook County, IL, Juvenile Temporary Detention Center. The most appropriate way to measure the comprehensive costs of crime is what researchers call the "top down" approach. This approach defines the social costs as what the public is willing to pay to achieve a specified reduction in crime. Between 2008 and 2009, approximately half of the residential centers in Cook County were re-designed to provide youths with group-based cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) during their stays at the center. Researchers found preliminary evidence that CBT may decrease recidivism rates in the 15 months following release. The minimal costs of the program (a few hundred dollars per youth per detention period) may be outweighed by the monetized benefits of reduced crime and punishment. During the study period (November 2009 to March 2011), a total of 1,518 male youths were admitted to the residential facility and randomly assigned to CBT or non-CBT units. Preliminary findings show the percentages of treatment and control groups that return to detention in each consecutive month after release. 1 figure