School-Based Delinquency Prevention: A Review of “Evidence-Based” Treatments
Juvenile delinquency is associated with a manifold of deleterious outcomes for victims, offenders, and the general public, and prevention is deemed a necessity. School-based interventions targeting delinquency risk and protective factors have been widely adopted as a means to prevent delinquency. Due to difficulties associated with translating evidence-based treatments (EBT), national databases have been created to assist practitioners in selecting effective practices. The purpose of this review was to identify school-based delinquency EBTs and explore the extent to which these interventions positively impacted risk and protective factors.
Systematic search and selection procedures were conducted in two stages to identify studies for this review. First, 7 EBT databases (e.g., the Coalition for Evidence-Based Policy, Blueprints for Violence Prevention, Office of Justice Programs’ Crime Solutions, and What Works Clearinghouse) were systematically searched to identify interventions that met the following criteria: a) listed with the highest rating on at least four EBT databases; b) conducted in school settings; and c) addressed at least one delinquency risk or protective factor. Following identification of interventions, five large academic databases were systematically searched to identify randomized controlled trials of each intervention conducted in the United States between 1992 and 2012. Two reviewers independently coded studies. Effect sizes were calculated and, in cases where more than two studies measuring the same outcomes were found, effects were pooled using inverse variance weighting and random effects models.
The final sample included 23 articles reporting on 13 independent studies of four interventions: the Good Behavior Game (GBG), LifeSkills Training (LST), Positive Action (PA), and Promoting Alternative THinking Strategies (PATHS). Results of two studies reporting long-term effects of the GBG indicated significant effects on school engagement (g=.31), but nonsignificant effects on substance use and antisocial behaviors/beliefs. For LST, short-term results revealed significant effects on aggression (OR =.77), mixed effects on antisocial beliefs, and non-significant effects on substance use. Long-term results revealed significant effects on intolerant attitudes toward deviance (g =.20), antisocial behaviors and beliefs (g =0.08), and substance use (OR=.41), but non-significant effects on peer antisocial beliefs. Two studies examining short-term effects of PA on aggression and substance use revealed mixed results across studies. Short-term effects of PATHS revealed significant effects on externalizing behaviors (g=.36), aggression (g=.29), and hyperactivity (g=.22). Effects for sociability were not significant during the short-term evaluation, but became larger and significant (g=0.34) at follow-up. Conversely, effects on externalizing behaviors were no longer significant at follow-up.
Results of this review indicated that school-based delinquency prevention interventions on EBT databases have been tested in relatively few rigorous studies, measure a myriad of outcomes, and offer mixed effects. Although each intervention is listed on at least 4 EBT websites. and may indeed represent the best evidence to which practitioners have access, effects of these interventions are mostly small and not overwhelmingly statistically significant. This review offers the first synthesis of “evidence-based” delinquency prevention in school settings and highlights existing strengths and weaknesses in the “best” evidence. Implications for practice and policy will be discussed.