Using School Related Programs to Prevent Juvenile Delinquency

Daniel Fried-Marcovitch[1]


Juvenile delinquency has an impact on the lives of thousands of people in the United States each year.  It can affect parents, neighbors, friends, teachers, the victims of the crime and the perpetrators themselves. In the year 2013, law enforcement agencies made around 666, 283 arrests of people that were under the age of 18 (Federal Bureau of Investigation, 2013). This is about a 46% decrease in the number of arrests from where it was 10 years ago. In addition, juveniles accounted for around 11% of all violent crimes and 16% of all property crimes in 2013 (Ibid, 2013). Even though the juvenile delinquency rates have decreased over the years, juvenile delinquency still remains a significant threat to public safety.  The United States has thus created many different prevention programs to try to prevent juvenile delinquency. One of the main ways the United States can try to prevent juvenile delinquency is to use schools to create prevention programs that will both teach kids how to behave properly and prevent them from becoming deviant. The main focus of this research paper is to look at school related prevention programs and see how they try to prevent juvenile delinquency.

In order to make effective school related prevention programs, we must first understand what risk factors lead to juvenile delinquency. There are many school related risk factors that can lead to delinquency. Academic failure is often “associated with the beginning of delinquency and the escalation of serious offending, and interventions that improve a child’s academic performance have been shown to reduce delinquency” (Catalano, Loeber & McKinney, 1999, p.2). Other school related risk factors include “social alienation, low commitment to school, association with violent and delinquent peers and aggressive behavior” (Ibid). Factors such as truancy, untreated learning disabilities and even drug use are school related risk factors that can lead to juvenile delinquency (Redding, 2000).

           School-based programs that are successful can prevent “drug use, anti-social behavior and early school drop-out” (Greenwood, 2008, p. 185). Successful prevention programs tend to target medium to high risk juvenile populations. Successful prevention programs are also delivered in community settings and are based on a specific treatment model that has research that demonstrates that it is in fact effective (Redding, 2000). There are many keys to an effective prevention program. One key to an effective prevention program is that the prevention program is comprehensive. Being comprehensive is when prevention programs include “multicomponent interventions that address critical domains (e.g., family, peers, community) that influence the development and perpetuation of the behaviors to be prevented” (Nation et al, 2003, p. 452). Another principle to an effective program is that it involves many different teaching methods. What this means that effective prevention programs “involve diverse teaching methods that focus on increasing awareness and understanding of the problem behaviors and on acquiring or enhancing skills (Ibid). Sufficient dosages are another principle of an effective prevention program and this means that effective prevention program “provide enough intervention to produce the desired effects and provide follow-ups as necessary to maintain effects” (Ibid). Two other key principles of an effective prevention program involve the program being theory driven and the program involving positive relationships. A prevention program being theory driven means that the program is based on accurate information and are supported by empirical research while positive relationships means that an effective prevention program provides exposure to adults and peers in such a  way that promotes a strong relationship and positive outcomes. Effective prevention programs also have to be appropriately timed and socioculturally relevant.  A program being appropriately timed means that prevention programs must be initiated very early so that there can be an impact on the development of the problem behavior and are sensitive to the developmental needs of the students who are participating. Socioculturally relevant has to do with prevention programs being tailored to the community and the cultural norms of the students (Nation et al, 2003). Effective prevention programs must have “clear goals and objectives and make an effort to systematically document their results relative to the goals” (Nation et al, 2003, p. 452). Finally, effective prevention programs have staff that support the program and are provided with the training that is required regarding the implementation of the intervention (Ibid). In general, the “most successful programs are those that prevent youth from engaging in delinquent behaviors in the first place” (Greenwood, 2008, p. 185).

School-Related Programs

            School-based prevention programs include  interventions to “prevent a variety of forms of problem behavior including theft, violence, illegal acts of aggression, alcohol or drug use, rebellious behavior, antisocial behavior, aggressive behavior, defiance of authority and disrespect for others” (Gottfredsson, 2000, p. 103).  Most school related prevention programs widely vary in what their goals are, but they do share some common themes. Some of these themes include: “collaborative planning and problem-solving involving teachers, parents, students community members, and administrators; grouping of students into small self-contained clusters; career education; integrated curriculum; and student involvement in rule-setting and enforcement, and various strategies to reduce drop out” (Greenwood, 2008, p. 197).

          There can be four different strategies of school-based prevention that generally focus on altering the school or classroom environments. One strategy involves building school capacity and this strategy basically includes “interventions to change the decision-making process or authority structures to enhance the general capacity of the school” (Gottfredsson, 2000, p. 105). These interventions involve teams of students, parents, staff and community members who engage in planning and carrying out activities to improve the school by diagnosing problems that exist in the school, formulating goals and objectives, and designing potential solutions for the school problems. One other strategy is establishing norms for behavior and this involves “school-wide efforts to redefine norms for behavior and signal appropriate behavior through the use of rules” (Ibid, p. 105). This strategy includes activities such as “newsletters, posters, ceremonies during which students declare their intention to remain drug free, and displaying symbols of appropriate behavior” (Ibid). Another strategy is to manage classes and this involves using “instructional methods designed to increase student engagement in the learning process and hence increase their academic performance and bonding to school; and classroom organization and management strategies” (Ibid, p. 106). The last strategy is to regroup students and this involves “reorganizing classes or grades to create smaller units, continuing interaction or different mixes of students, or to provide greater flexibility in instruction” (Ibid). .

There can be also five different strategies of school-based prevention that focus on the changing of behaviors, knowledge, skills, attitudes or beliefs of individual students. One strategy is to instruct students and this involves providing “instruction to students to teach them factual information, increase their awareness of social influences to engage in misbehavior, and expanding their repertoires for recognizing and appropriately responding to risky or potentially harmful situations” (Ibid). One other strategy involves behavior modification and teaching thinking strategies. This strategy focuses on “changing behaviors and involves timely tracking of specific behaviors over time, behavioral goals, and uses feedback or positive or negative reinforcement to change behavior” (Ibid). This type of strategy seems to mainly rely on external reinforcers to the student to shape their behavior. Peer program is another strategy that generally involves peer counseling, peer mediation and programs involving peer leaders. The second to last strategy is counseling and mentoring. Counseling and mentoring involves “individual counseling and case management and similar group-based interventions, excluding peer counseling” (Ibid). The final strategy is providing recreational, enrichment, and leisure activities. This strategy involves activities that are intended to “provide constructive and fun alternatives to delinquent behavior” (Ibid).

Drug-Related School Prevention

One school-related prevention program that deals with drug prevention is the Life Skills Training Program. The Life Skills Training program was “designed as a school-based intervention to target a specific set of risk factors for alcohol, tobacco, and other drug (ATOD) use” (Botvin & Kantor, 2000, p. 250). This program has become widely used throughout the United States in the past couple of years and has become a model for future prevention programs and is listed as promising by the Surgeon General (Greenwood, 2008). The Life skills training program is a primary prevention program, which means the ultimate of goal of this program is to target the younger populations and attempt to reduce the prevalence of drug use and abuse among the youths as they age. The Life Skills training program was created to influence factors at the individual level through the development of three components: “(1) to influence ATOD related knowledge, attitudes, and norms; (2) to teach skills for resisting social influences to use ATODS; and (3) to promote the development of personal self-management and social skills” (Botvin & Kantor, 2000, p. 251). In regards to the first component, this component was designed to influence drug related knowledge and attitudes, normative expectations and the skills for resisting media and peer influences to use any type of drugs. This component also addresses the short and long term consequences of drug use, the actual levels of drug use among different people and the declining social acceptability of using drugs. For the personal self-management component, this component was designed to improve the decision-making and the problem solving ability of its students; to teach the required skills for identifying, analyzing, interpreting and resisting the influences of the media influences; to teach all the skills that is required for coping with many different emotions such as anxiety, anger, and frustration; and to provide students with the basic principles of personal behavior change and self-improvement. Finally, the social skills component was designed to influence many different types of important social skills such as communication and to improve the student’s general social competence (Botvin & Kantor, 2000).

DARE is another school-related prevention program that deals with drug prevention (Sahin & Karapazarlioglu 2014). DARE was created in 1983 by the Los Angeles Police Department and the Los Angeles Unified School District.  An evaluation shortly after the program began noted that DARE  uses “specially trained law enforcement officers to teach a drug use prevention curriculum in elementary schools and more recently, in junior and senior high schools” (Ennett et al, 1994, p. 9). Within a few years, DARE was being adopted by almost half of local school districts around the nation and continued to spread. The DARE core curriculum focuses on teaching kids the required skills that is needed in order to be able to recognize and resist social pressures to use drugs (Ennett et al., 1994). DARE also focuses on “providing information on drugs, teaching decision-making skills, building self-esteem, and choosing healthy alternatives to drug use” (Ennett et al., 1994, p. 9).

Gang-Related School Prevention

One type of school-related prevention program that generally deals with gangs is called the Gang Resistance Education and Training program (G.R.E.A.T). G.R.E.A.T differs from most programs that try to reduce gang problems being that G.R.E.A.T is presented to an entire classroom without attempting to predict which students are more likely to end up becoming involved with a gang (Esbensen, 2004). The G.R.E.A.T. program is mainly aimed at middle school students and it has three main objects which include: (1) reducing the student’s involvements in gangs and delinquent behavior; (2) teaching the students the consequences of becoming involved in a gang; and (3) helping all the students be able to develop positive relations with law enforcement. These three objectives are being addressed through a 9-hour curriculum that is taught in schools by uniformed law enforcement officers and students are taught to “set positive goals, resist negative pressures, resolve conflicts, and understand how gangs impact the quality of their lives” (Esbensen, 2004, p.1).

Another way to prevent kids from joining gangs is to implement activities that provide youth with the opportunities to become involved with positive groups and to develop the skills that are necessary to allow them to stay out of gangs (Arciaga, Sakamoto & Jones, 2010).  These types of programs offer “youth structured and skills-based programming during critical times when many youth may be unsupervised and on the streets” (Arciaga et al, 2010, p. 3).  After-school activities extend the school day for students and it does end up providing the academic support and the development that the students need. After-school programs can also offer the opportunity for the youth to be able to bond with positive role models and the ability to be able to learn new and effective social-emotional skills. The Boys & Girls Clubs of America is an example of an organization that utilizes a “targeted prevention approach that identifies youth who may be at high risk of gang involvement because of a number of risk factors, including gang involvement by other family members” (Ibid).

Involving the parents in trying to prevent kids from joining gangs can also be beneficial. Schools may serve as hubs where parents can be trained in being able to be aware of gangs and all the strategies to keep their children away from any types of gangs.  Parents can also be “recruited to protect the safety of students in and around the school campus simply by being visibly present before, after, and during school hours” (Ibid). Two types of programs that involve the parents are the Parents on Patrol program and the Safe-Passage program. The Parents on Patrol program places parents at critical places in the community where there may be reports of any disturbances or safety concerns to the school or law enforcement while the Safe-Passage program offers support, supervision and the protection for youths to and from school and gives the parents some ownership in the prevention and safety from gangs (Arciaga et al, 2010).

Bullying-Related School Prevention

One type of school-related prevention program for bullying that exists is the Olweus Bullying Prevention program. It was originally created in Norway in the 1980s, but the program did end up eventually spreading all the way to the United States (Olweus & Limber, 2010). The main goals of the Olweus Bullying Prevention program are to “reduce existing bullying problems among students at school, prevent the development of new bullying problems, and generally, achieve better peer relations at school” (Ibid, p.377). All these goals are met by restructuring the child’s social environment at school and this restructuring is meant to build a sense of community for the students and adults within the school environment (Olweus & Limber, 2010). This program is based off of four key principles. The first principle is that the adults at school should show warmth and positive interest and must be involved in every student’s lives. The second principle is that there must be set limits on what is unacceptable behavior and the third principle is that schools must always use nonphysical, non-hostile negative consequences when rules are broken. The final principle is that the schools must function as authorities and positive role models (Ibid)

Zero-Tolerance School Prevention

In response to highly publicized violent incidents in schools, the school disciplinary policies have been becoming increasingly severe. These policies have been “implemented at the school, district, and state levels with the goal of ensuring the safety of students and staff” (Boccanfuso & Kuhfeld, 2011, p. 1).  All these policies have one component in common and that component is zero tolerance. Zero tolerance policies assign “explicit, predetermined punishments to specific violations of schools rules, regardless of the situation or context of the behavior” (Ibid). According to the zero tolerance policy, the punishment for a violation is severe, such as suspension or expulsion from school. The schools use zero tolerance policies because there is an assumption that this type of policy will deter students from committing violent or illegal behavior because the punishment that results from the zero tolerance policy is certain and sever (Boccanfuso & Kuhfeld, 2011). 

Zero tolerance was originally applied to the criminal justice system as an approach to enforcing drug laws, but it has become widely adopted in the school settings during the 1990s and the 2000s being that it was ironically seen as a less variable policy to use in the criminal justice system (Boccanfuso & Kuhfeld, 2011).  Zero tolerance policies have been implemented all around the United States through the Gun Free Schools Act of 1994, which generally mandates a one-year expulsion for students who have been found to have brought a firearm or any other weapon with them to school.  There are now many variations of this zero tolerance policy that covers a variety of other violations such as bullying, fighting and using drugs or alcohol (Ibid).    

Anger Coping-Related School Prevention

            Angry arousal can “disrupt interpersonal relationships directly or through aggressive acts; conversely, problems such as misunderstanding the intentions of another or an inability to resolve conflicts adaptively can lead to anger and aggression” (Lochman et al, 2010, p. 162). Anger management strategies tend to seek to assist individuals in reducing their level of arousal, which is an important first step given that high levels of arousal  can “disrupt social problem-solving processes by intensifying the flight-or-fight response or interfering with the generation of solutions” ( Ibid). Four school-related prevention strategies that deal with the ability to control ones anger is the Think First intervention, the Second Step program, the Anger Coping Program and the Coping Power Program. The Think First intervention involves students receiving two 50-minute sessions a week for six to eight weeks that teach “anger and aggression management skills to secondary students through role playing, modeling and rewards” (Furlong et al, 2005, p.12).  The Second Step program is embedded with existing school curricula and it includes skill-based lessons that teach an understanding of violence, empathy, problem solving skills, and anger management skills to students (Ibid). The Anger Coping Program and its successor the Coping Power Program, which includes an added parent training component, provides school-based prevention and early interventions for 4th to 6th graders. The child components generally focus on anger management training through “emotional awareness, identification of anger triggers, and use of coping techniques such as relaxation and self-talk to control and reduce angry arousal” (Lochman, et al, 2010, p. 163). The children who take part in this program also learn perspective taking and receive reattribution training. These programs typically contain a huge social problem-solving section where the children learn how to consider a variety of problem solutions to a specific problem, evaluate each solution and select the best solution based on what the consequences are (Ibid). The Coping Power Program also trains its students to resist peer pressure.

One more prevention program that deals with preventing anger is the Problem Solving Skills Training (PSST) Program. The Problem Solving Skills Training program was created for school-age children who are taught to apply five problem-solving steps through verbal self-prompts  which end up encouraging them to engage in appropriate problem-solving thoughts and actions (Lochman et al, 2010). The five steps include: “(1) what am I supposed to do? (2) I have to look at all my possibilities, (3) I’d better concentrate and focus in, (4) I need to make a choice, (5) I did a good job or Oh, I made a mistake” (Ibid, p. 162). In addition, role-playing is utilized in this program to let the students be able to practice skill development.

Drop-Out School Prevention

There can also be school-related prevention programs that deal with trying to prevent high school drop outs being that dropping out of school can also lead to crime. In today’s society, the high school drop-out rate can become crucial and important in relation to competitiveness and our economy. About one million of the two million prison inmates are in fact high school drop outs and for many of them (Cassel, 2003). Because of this, high schools across our nation must take immediate action to prevent these high school drop outs from even happening. One of the primary reasons for dropping out of school is a “general lack of personal development” (Ibid, p. 650). The drop-out prevention program starts off with administering a Personal Development Test to the entering freshmen in every high school across the nation, where the at-risk students are carefully identified. All the students with a score of “45 or less, using the appropriate youth norm (male for males and female for females) are to be given the Drop-Out Prevention Program” (Ibid).  The prevention program is typically about six weeks long and the students receive the appropriate high school credit for the program. This program is taught by select school counselors who are supervised by a boarded school psychologist. In addition, the course begins by having the counselor “first collectively providing explanations of the PDT scores to all students who just finished taking the test; this is always followed by provisions for each individual to have explanation’s as requested” (Ibid, p. 651).

Other School-Related Prevention

Two other school-related prevention programs are Project Status and The School Transitional Environmental program. The Project Status program is a prevention program that is designed to “improve junior and senior high school climate and reduce delinquency and drop-out” (Greenwood, 2008, p.197). The two primary strategies that project status uses are “collaborative efforts to improve school climate and a year-long English and social studies class focused on key social institutions” (Ibid).  The School Transitional Environmental program on the other hand attempts to “reduce the complexity of school environments, increase peer and teacher support, and decrease student vulnerability to academic and emotional difficulties by reducing school disorganization and restructuring the role of the homeroom teacher” (Ibid). This program specifically targets the students who are at the greatest risk for behavior problems and the students in this program are “grouped in homerooms where the teachers take on the additional role of guidance counselor” (Ibid).

Effectiveness of School-Related Programs

            Many school-related prevention programs have actually been proven to be effective in preventing “drug use, delinquency, anti-social behavior, and early drop out (Greenwood, 2008, p.197). Programs such as the Bullying Prevention program, Life Skills Training Program, Project Status, the School Transitional Environmental program, the Anger Coping program and the Problem Solving Skills Training program have shown to have some forms of success when it comes to preventing certain delinquency. Even the Gang Resistance Education and Training program has achieved modest positive results. The Gang resistance Education and Training program was shown to be able to “successfully change several risk factors (e.g., peer group associations and attitudes about gangs, law enforcement, and risk-seeking behaviors) associated with delinquency and gang membership” (Esbensen, 2004, p. 1). The Bullying Prevention Program has been effective in improving the school climate and reducing both bullying and other forms of delinquency. The Life Skills Training programs have proven to be effective in reducing the use of cigarettes, marijuana and alcohol and the reductions in these drugs are sustained throughout the entire school period (Greenwood, 2008).

In regards to Project Status, evaluations of this program have found “less total delinquency, drug use, and negative peer pressure and greater academic success and social bonding” (Ibid, p. 197). Evaluations of the School Transitional Environmental program have demonstrated “decreased absenteeism and drop-out, increased academic success and more positive feelings about school” (Ibid). It has been found that the Problem Solving Skills Training program led to decreased disruptive behavior and more appropriate behaviors at the home and school (Lochman et al, 2010).  Aggressive boys in the Anger Coping program demonstrated “less aggressive and disruptive behavior as well as higher self-esteem post-treatment than their counterparts in minimal or no-treatment conditions” (Ibid, p. 163). Even the Coping Power program has shown success being that the children who took part in this program ended up showing less delinquency, substance abuse and school behavior problems with the effects mediated by changes in social-cognitive processes (Lochman et al, 2010).

          While there are school-related prevention programs that are effective, there can also be school related prevention programs that are ineffective.  One important example of a program that has generally been found to be ineffective is the Drug Abuse Resistance Education program (Sahin & Karapazarlioglu, 2014). While there have been a couple of studies of the DARE program that  have actually found it to be somewhat effective, other studies have mostly found it to have no effect at all (Ibid.). The reason for the failure of the DARE program to be successful is that this program is being imported and implemented the same way everywhere without taking into consideration the “specific characteristics of the schools or the school environment” (Ibid, p. 75).

          Another school related prevention program that is found to be ineffective is zero tolerance policies (Howell, 2008). Zero tolerance policies “are not effective because they call for immediate and severe punishment of every infraction of codes of conduct, school rules, and laws, and such an approach is not realistic” (Ibid, p. 260).  Zero tolerance policies are also not successful because rules have to be applied with some amounts of discretion and every student rule violation is actually not brought to the attention of school authorities (Howell, 2008).  There are other harmful effects of tolerance policies on youths. For example, schools may “feed students into the school-to-prison pipeline by removing them from school altogether through zero tolerance and other harsh disciplinary policies” (Ibid). In addition, school suspensions can increase the likelihood of involvement in gangs, being arrest, being referred to court, being confined in a state juvenile correctional facility, and being imprisoned (Howell, 2008). 


          Schools are in a “unique position to identify violent behavior among students early and to implement prevention strategies that affect the entire community” (Furlong et al, 2005, p.11). Creating safe supportive schools is very important in ensuring the academic and social success of every student. There are lots of elements to “establishing environments in which youth feel safe, connected valued and responsible for their behavior and learning” (Ibid). The key to achieving this is for schools to prevent all the forms of violence such as bullying, aggressive classroom behavior, gun use or organized gang activity. There are many different types of school-related prevention programs that try to keep kids out of trouble. There are school-related prevention programs that try to prevent kids from joining gangs. There are school-related prevention programs that try to prevent kids from using drugs and there are school-related prevention programs that just try to teach kids the necessary skills that are required to live a healthy life without having the need to commit any problematic behavior. Whatever the school-related prevention program might be, they all try to mainly achieve one thing and that is to keep kids out of trouble (Furlong et al, 2005).

          The basic principles that underlie effective prevention programs or strategies to reduce any type of violent behavior is the same as those that underlie all the strategies that promote healthy development and learning for all students. Effective approaches “balance security measures and discipline with positive supports, skill building, parent and community involvement, and improved school climate” (Ibid, p. 11). By being able to successfully implement these principles as foundations for any types of school policy or procedures, schools will not only reduce the violence that may occur, but they will also be able to improve the academic and social outcomes for every student (Ibid).  


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[1] This was a paper in a seminar on juvenile justice in the Spring, 2015.