Recidivism Among Juvenile Offenders: Effect of Prison Programs


Juvenile offenders have been prone to recidivism and the rates of juvenile recidivism have been very high in the United States. There are several reasons which have been put forward by experts to explain the reasons for juvenile offending, including poverty and lack of effective educational programs (De la Torre, 2007). The efficacy of prison programs has been a controversial subject because they have not been successful in reducing the recidivism rates. This is not only the case in the United States but in Britain as well. Young offenders appear to view prison more as an opportunity to receive free food and shelter before going back to the streets (De la Torre). At the same time prison programs have not been successful in reducing the recidivism rates. This study therefore proposes to conduct an examination into the current juvenile justice system and its ineffectiveness in addressing recidivism. Alternative means by which recidivism could be curtailed will also be addressed, with the views of researchers who have proposed such alternative measures.

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Problem Statement

The efficacy of juvenile prisons has been a controversial subject, due to the rising incidence of recidivism. In the United States, the recidivism rates among young juvenile offenders are reported to be significantly high at almost 94% (Lewis, Yeager, Lovely, Stein & Cobham-Porterreal, 1994). This research study seeks to address recidivism issues concerning past juvenile prison inmates who are over 18 years of age, in order to determine how they have responded to the incarceration experience. Re-offending among juvenile offenders appears to be high, not only in the United States, but also in Britain. Hagell (2002) found that 88 percent of young British juvenile offenders were prone to recidivism within about two years after their release from custody. Such high statistical figures for juvenile recidivism suggest that rehabilitation and correction programs available for young offenders through the prison experience may be largely ineffective in achieving the desired objectives.

There are many theories and views that have been put forward to explain the reasons for the high rates of juvenile recidivism. Fader (2009) points out that recidivism may be the result of a lack of accountability in juvenile prisons. De la Torre (1997) believes that recidivism could be reduced by providing better educational opportunities for youngsters, involving them in activities such as sports programs and involving the church in a more active role. Loeber and Farrington (1998) offer the view that identification of the high-risk juveniles is important if prison programs are to succeed. For instance, individuals who started offending at a very young age or commit offences regularly may be at a higher risk for re-offending. Identifying the social and environmental factors that could be conducive to offending could also be of great help in the formulation of programs that would be effective in addressing those risk factors and mitigating them before they cause juveniles to move into offending.

The high rates of juvenile recidivism are statistically supported through research (Lewis, Yeager, Lovely, Stein & Cobham-Porterreal, 1994; Hagell, 2002), but a corresponding level of research into improving prison programs is lacking (Fader, 2009). While the experience of incarceration does place juvenile inmates into a position of readiness to accept positive changes and modify their conduct, prison fails to provide these inmates with the skills they need to bring about these changes (Ashker & Kenny, 2008). This study therefore proposes to carry out an investigation into the causal factors of recidivism and specifically how this problem could be redressed through modifications or changes in juvenile prison programs.

Purpose Statement

The purpose of this qualitative study is to explore recidivism of juveniles in Connecticut. The central research question that is posed in this study is: How can juvenile prison programs be improved to reduce the rates of recidivism and ensure that young offenders are successfully integrated into the society? In order to answer this question, this study will carry out a survey of persons who were formerly juvenile inmates of the only juvenile prison in Connecticut. The survey will determine whether these former inmates are currently employed, educated or otherwise gainfully engaged in society. This will be used as the basis to discover if, and what percentage of former inmates have actually gained benefits from prison programs. In view of their incarceration experience, these former inmates would be in a position to express their views about their prison experience, including what was lacking and what areas of the prison system could be improved. The study will address questions such as (a) whether they have re-offended (b) if yes, the reasons for recidivism and (c) how their prison experience contributed to or detract from the recidivism (d) what are the problem areas in prison programs which are making them ineffective and (e) how these programs could be improved. This study proposes to gain an understanding into how such prison programs could be improved by identifying some of the problem areas, based upon the perception of former inmates.

Research Questions

The central research question that is proposed in this study therefore is: How can juvenile prison programs be improved to reduce the rates of recidivism and ensure that young offenders are successfully integrated into the society? The survey of the former inmates of the Connecticut juvenile prison will enable the researcher to ascertain the following:

  1. Whether they have re-offended after being released from prison after their first incarceration experience?
  2. If they have re-offended, what were the reasons behind the re-offending?
  3. What are their opinions about their incarceration and its impact on their lives?
  4. What productive activities are they presently engaged in?
  5. What are their recommendations and suggestions about improving the juvenile prison programs?


This study will make a number of positive contributions to the field of criminology. First, it will help to narrow the literature gap that exists on ways through which juvenile prison programs could be improved and made effective in reducing the rates of recidivism. Second, the study will provide a deeper insight into the problem of recidivism among juvenile offenders. This will be made possible by the use of a qualitative phenomenological research design which will use subjects that have had a direct experience with the juvenile prison system. Most importantly, the study will help the juvenile justice system to understand the problem of juvenile recidivism and how it can be significantly reduced through the improvement of existing prison programs.

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Reference List

Ashkar, P. J. & Kenny, D. T. (2008). Views from the inside: Young offenders’ subjective experiences of incarceration. International Journal of Offender Therapy and Comparative Criminology, 52(5), 584-6.

De La Torre, A. (1997). Rescuing lives without hope: Smaller classes, sports programs, jobs, church involvement: These are possible solutions to juvenile crime. Los Angeles Times, p. A7.

Fader, J. (2009). Juvenile Justice: A case for transparency and research based accountability. Changing Lives, Changing Minds. Web.

Hagell, A. (2002). The Mental Health of Young Offenders – Bright Futures: Working with Vulnerable Young People. London: Mental Health Foundation.

Lewis D.O, Yeager C.A, Lovely R., Stein A. & Cobham-Porterreal, C.S. (1994). A clinical follow-up of delinquent males: ignored variables, unmet needs and the perpetuation of violence. Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 33, 518-28.

Loeber, D. & Farrington, D. (1998). Serious and Violent Juvenile Offenders. New York: Sage.

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