This research is simply depressing. Simply put, the more help a juvenile receives from the justice system, the more likely they will later engage in crime as adults (by a seven-fold increase). From the article:
I have no doubt that placing these adolescents together creates a “culture of deviance,” and as a result they increase their maladaptive patterns. A common criticism of prison is that guys come out worse than when they went in (often true, but not an automatic). I do think, however, there may be other issues at play. First off, budding psychopaths will use treatment programs as training for rigging the system - that is, they will learn all of the things they are supposed to say, do, etc. in order to convince others they are not as criminal as they actually are. Some research has suggested, for example, that psychopathic sex offenders are more likely to re-offend following treatment, due to an increase in confidence in the belief they’ve fooled everyone.
Another factor I’d love to look at would be the various intervention protocols. I have no idea what the juvenile systems in Canada are doing in terms of treatment of incarcerated youth. Depending on the types of therapies offered, I could easily see treatment being, at best, a waste of time.
A third consideration may not be simply being immersed in a “culture of deviancy,” but the lack of exposure to non-offending people. True, most people gravitate towards others who are doing what they would like to do, but there certainly are examples of individuals who appeared down the wrong track, until they latched onto a person or group that offered a different path (I always think of Mike Tyson during his time with Cus D’amato, who seemed to be able to channel Tyson’s energies in a positive direction until he passed). The presence of negative interpersonal relationships is not the same as the absence of positive relational opportunities; both areas would need to be examined.
Those are just a few of the possible additional explanations for what surely has to be an incredibly disappointing find. As far as options, I’m not sure. The article poses two choices - earlier interventions, and/or smaller groups. Maybe...but I’d like the data to be examined more thoroughly, and compared with other studies, before we start spending even more money in an area where these results just suggested it was a waste.