Introduction

A variety of institutional and aftercare programs aimed at helping juvenile offenders develop into useful, law-abiding citizens have been developed. Unfortunately, most remain largely ineffectual and recidivism continues to be unacceptably high. New programs are needed that successfully help juvenile offenders re-enter society without re-establishing a pattern of delinquency. An important part of program development is asking participants what they think would be effective to help them succeed once they are released from detention or have completed the terms of their parole.

This study was conducted in collaboration with the Clark County Department of Family and Youth Services (CCDFYS) to understand youth perceptions of their detention experience and to aid in the development of in-facility and community re-entry programming. The data for this study were obtained from surveys of incarcerated youth in the state of Nevada’s Spring Mountain and CCDFYS youth detention facilities. Youth responded to a survey designed to assess perceptions of the overall facilities, staff, and future programming. Many of the items included in the survey were developed as a result of two youth focus group discussions. Youth were informed that their participation in the survey was voluntary and that they could skip any item they wanted. To insure accurate and honest responses, the surveys were anonymous and confidential.

Demographics

The sample was composed of 93 male detainees from Spring Mountain and 104 male and female detainees from CCDFYS Detention. Table 1 shows the demographic composition of the survey participants from each facility. At Spring Mountain, 64.5% of the respondents were sixteen years of age or older, and 98.9% were male. Approximately one-third of the respondents were European-American (32.6%) and one-third (32.6%) were Hispanic-American. Most (43.8%) reported living with mother only, while 16.9% reported living with both biological parents before their incarceration. Eighty-three percent had been incarcerated in the facility for six months or less, and 93.1% of the youth reported having been arrested 3 or more times. Approximately 45% of the youth said they spend some or a lot of time with a gang.

Of the youth from CCDFYS Detention (Table 1), 62.4% of the respondents were sixteen years of age or older, and 79.2% were male. Approximately 45% of the respondents were European-American, 22.7% were Hispanic-American, and 17.5% were African American. Approximately one-third (32.3%) reported living with mother only, while 19.2% reported living with both biological parents before their incarceration. The majority (98.9%) had been incarcerated in the facility for six months or less, with 54.3% of those being incarcerated less than one month. More than two-thirds (67.8%) of the youth reported having been arrested 3 or more times. Approximately 40% of the youth said they spend some or a lot of time with a gang.

At Spring Mountain, physical abuse was reported by 45.6% of the youth and 5.6% reported sexual abuse. Physical abuse was reported by 54.1% of the youth from CCDFYS Detention, with 17.8% reporting sexual abuse (Table 1). Even though only 11.5% of the total sample from both facilities were girls, they represented almost 50% of those reporting sexual abuse.

Table 1. Demographic characteristics of survey participants
Age Spring Mountain Count Spring Mountain Percent CCDFYS Detention Count CCDFYS Detention Percent
13 years of age 6 6.5% 5 5.0%
14 years of age 8 8.6% 11 10.9%
15 years of age 19 20.4% 22 21.8%
16 years of age or older 60 64.5% 63 62.4%
Gender Spring Mountain Count Spring Mountain Percent CCDFYS Detention Count CCDFYS Detention Percent
Female 0 0.0% 21 20.8%
Male 91 100.0% 80 79.2%
Ethnicity Spring Mountain Count Spring Mountain Percent CCDFYS Detention Count CCDFYS Detention Percent
European-American 28 32.6% 43 44.3%
Hispanic-American 28 32.6% 22 22.7%
African-American 12 14.0% 17 17.5%
Asian/Pacific Islander-American 4 4.7% 3 3.1%
Native American 1 1.2% N/A N/A
Multi-ethnic 13 15.1% 12 12.4%
Family Makeup Spring Mountain Count Spring Mountain Percent CCDFYS Detention Count CCDFYS Detention Percent
Both biological parents 15 16.9% 19 19.2%
Only mother 39 43.8% 32 32.3%
Only father 8 9.0% 11 11.1%
Mother and stepfather 12 13.5% 19 19.2%
Father and stepmother 6 6.7% 2 2.0%
Foster parents/Guardians 1 1.1% 4 4.0%
Grandparents 7 7.9% 3 3.0%
None of the above 1 1.1% 9 9.1%
Time Detained Spring Mountain Count Spring Mountain Percent CCDFYS Detention Count CCDFYS Detention Percent
Less than one month 6 6.5% 50 54.3%
1 – 2 months 13 14.0% 25 27.2%
3 – 6 months 58 62.4% 16 17.4%
7 – 12 months 14 15.1% 1 1.1%
1 – 2 years 2 2.2% N/A N/A
Number of Arrests Spring Mountain Count Spring Mountain Percent CCDFYS Detention Count CCDFYS Detention Percent
Once 2 2.3% 9 10.3%
Twice 4 4.7% 19 21.8%
3 – 5 times 33 38.4% 23 26.4%
6 or more times 47 54.7% 36 41.4%
Crime Spring Mountain Count Spring Mountain Percent CCDFYS Detention Count CCDFYS Detention Percent
Violation of probation/parole 23 25.6% 19 20.7%
Robbery/burglary 22 24.4% 15 16.3%
Drugs 19 21.1% 10 10.9%
Stealing cars 12 13.3% 10 10.9%
Other jurisdiction 4 4.4% 15 16.3%
Assault/battery 7 7.8% 11 12.0%
Sexual offense 1 1.1% 7 7.6%
Fighting N/A N/A 3 3.3%
Truancy 1 1.1% 2 2.2%
Vandalism 1 1.1% N/A N/A
Gang Involvement Spring Mountain Count Spring Mountain Percent CCDFYS Detention Count CCDFYS Detention Percent
Not in gang, no friends in gang 9 10.1% 32 32.7%
Not in gang, friends in gang 40 44.9% 28 28.6%
Spend some time with gang 14 15.7% 19 19.4%
Spend a lot of time with gang 26 29.2% 19 19.4%
Experienced Sexual Abuse Spring Mountain Count Spring Mountain Percent CCDFYS Detention Count CCDFYS Detention Percent
Yes 5 5.6% 18 17.8%
No 85 94.4% 83 82.2%
Experienced Physical Abuse Spring Mountain Count Spring Mountain Percent CCDFYS Detention Count CCDFYS Detention Percent
Yes 41 45.6% 53 54.1%
No 49 54.4% 45 45.9%

Rating of facility

Participants were asked to rate the facility they were in during detention. At Spring Mountain (Table 2a), approximately three-fourths (71%) said that the food was bad or very bad. The general facilities, which included their rooms, common areas, etc., were rated as good or very good by 45.4% of respondents, while 54.5% rated them as bad or very bad. Over half (57.2%) rated treatment by staff as good or very good, and 56.7% said treatment by other youth was good or very good. Entertainment and recreation was rated as good or very good by 73% of respondents, while 66.3% said that the clothing was bad or very bad. School was rated as good or very good by 63.7% of respondents.

At CCDFYS Detention (Table 2b), 78.2% said that the food was bad or very bad. The general facilities, which included their rooms, common areas, etc., were rated as good or very good by 64.7% of respondents. Approximately three fourths (71.6%) rated treatment by staff as good or very good, and 62.3% said treatment by other youth was good or very good. Entertainment and recreation was rated as good or very good by 68.6% of respondents, while 71.3% said that the clothing was bad or very bad. School was rated as good or very good by 69% of respondents.

Table 2a. Respondents’ rating of Spring Mountain facility
Category Very Good n Very Good % Good n Good % Bad n Bad % Very Bad n Very Bad %
Food 1 1.1% 26 28.0% 20 21.5% 46 49.5%
Facilities (room, etc.) 6 6.8% 34 38.6% 23 26.1% 25 28.4%
Treatment by staff 12 13.2% 40 44.0% 27 29.7% 12 13.2%
Treatment by other youth 1 1.1% 50 55.6% 22 24.4% 17 18.9%
Entertainment/Recreation 22 25.9% 40 47.1% 12 14.1% 11 12.9%
Clothes 5 5.6% 25 28.1% 11 12.4% 48 53.9%
School 8 8.8% 50 54.9% 20 22.0% 13 14.3%
Table 2b. Respondents’ rating of CCDFYS Detention facility
Category Very Good n Very Good % Good n Good % Bad n Bad % Very Bad n Very Bad %
Food 1 1.0% 21 20.8% 46 45.5% 33 32.7%
Facilities (room, etc.) 7 6.9% 59 57.8% 19 18.6% 17 16.7%
Treatment by staff 17 16.7% 56 54.9% 20 19.6% 9 8.8%
Treatment by other youth 7 6.9% 56 55.4% 25 24.8% 13 12.9%
Entertainment/Recreation 18 17.6% 52 51.0% 23 22.5% 9 8.8%
Clothes 6 5.9% 23 22.8% 35 34.7% 37 36.6%
School 14 14.0% 55 55.0% 20 20.0% 11 11.0%

Programs that would be helpful inside the facility

Participants were asked their opinion about activities that could be provided inside the facility that would help youth succeed when they are released from detention. At Spring Mountain (Table 3a), most items were to rated to be potentially very helpful or helpful by most respondents, with the five highest rated activities being job training (88.1%), recreational activities (80%), counseling with parents (73.2%), computer training (72.1%), and arts and crafts activities (69.3%).

At CCDFYS Detention (Table 3b), all items were rated to be potentially very helpful or helpful by most respondents, with the five highest rated activities being job training (83.2%), counseling with parents (79.1%), books/reading materials (78%), recreational activities (76%), and computer training (71.3%).

Table 3a. Youths’ opinion on inside facility programming at Spring Mountain that would be helpful
Inside Facility Programs Very Helpful n Very Helpful % Helpful n Helpful % Kind of Helpful n Kind of Helpfu % Not Helpful n Not Helpful %
Personal time with staff 28 30.4% 28 30.4% 23 25.0% 13 14.1%
Group counseling 11 11.8% 33 35.5% 28 30.1% 21 22.6%
Classroom instruction 13 14.3% 35 38.5% 34 37.4% 9 9.9%
Computer training 45 48.4% 22 23.7% 15 16.1% 11 11.8%
Job training 64 69.6% 17 18.5% 6 6.5% 5 5.4%
Recreational activities 41 45.6% 31 34.4% 17 18.9% 1 1.1%
Individual counseling 28 31.5% 30 33.7% 22 24.7% 9 10.1%
Arts and crafts activities 30 34.1% 31 35.2% 21 23.9% 6 6.8%
Books/reading materials 41 45.1% 19 20.9% 18 19.8% 13 14.3%
Counseling with parents 18 43.9% 12 29.3% 8 19.5% 3 7.3%
Table 3b. Youths’ opinion on inside facility programming at CCDFYS Detention that would be helpful
Inside Facility Programs Very Helpful n Very Helpful % Helpful n Helpful % Kind of Helpful n Kind of Helpfu % Not Helpful n Not Helpful %
Personal time with staff 30 29.4% 42 41.2% 20 19.6% 10 9.8%
Group counseling 27 26.7% 29 28.7% 23 22.8% 22 21.8%
Classroom instruction 17 16.7% 47 46.1% 22 21.6% 16 15.7%
Computer training 43 42.6% 29 28.7% 14 13.9% 15 14.9%
Job training 62 61.4% 22 21.8% 5 5.0% 12 11.9%
Recreational activities 49 49.0% 27 27.0% 19 19.0% 5 5.0%
Individual counseling 44 44.0% 26 26.0% 19 19.0% 11 11.0%
Arts and crafts activities 44 44.0% 25 25.0% 24 24.0% 7 7.0%
Books/reading materials 50 50.0% 28 28.0% 8 8.0% 14 14.0%
Counseling with parents 26 60.5% 8 18.6% 6 14.0% 3 7.0%

Programs that would be helpful outside the facility

Participants were asked their opinion about activities that could be provided outside the facility that would help youth succeed when they are released from detention. At Spring Mountain (Table 4a), all items were rated to be potentially very helpful or helpful by most respondents, with the five highest rated activities being job training (93.6%), having a safe place from family (81.3%), social skills classes (71.6%), conflict management classes (70.4%), and mentoring by caring adults (61.1%).

At CCDFYS Detention (Table 4b), all items were rated to be potentially very helpful or helpful by most respondents, with the five highest rated activities being job training (90.1%), having a safe place from family (87.2%), conflict management classes (71.3%), drug and alcohol programs (70.3%), and family counseling (69.3%).

Table 4a. Youths’ opinions on outside facility programming at Spring Mountain that would be helpful
Outside Facility Programs Very Helpful n Very Helpful % Helpful n Helpful % Kind of Helpful n Kind of Helpfu % Not Helpful n Not Helpful %
Job training 69 74.2% 18 19.4% 3 3.2% 3 3.2%
Conflict management 23 25.3% 41 45.1% 21 23.1% 6 6.6%
Drug/alcohol program 33 37.5% 20 22.7% 17 19.3% 18 20.5%
Mentoring by caring adults 15 16.7% 40 44.0% 26 28.9% 9 10.0%
Family counseling 25 27.8% 24 26.7% 29 32.2% 12 13.3%
Individual counseling 24 27.8% 29 32.6% 23 25.8% 13 14.6%
Social skills classes 29 33.0% 34 38.6% 21 23.9% 4 4.5%
Having a safe place from family when needed 48 52.7% 26 28.6% 12 13.2% 5 5.5%
Table 4b. Youths’ opinions on outside facility programming at CCDFYS Detention that would be helpful
Outside Facility Programs Very Helpful n Very Helpful % Helpful n Helpful % Kind of Helpful n Kind of Helpfu % Not Helpful n Not Helpful %
Job training 74 73.3% 17 16.8% 3 3.0% 7 6.9%
Conflict management 41 40.6% 31 30.7% 19 18.8% 10 9.9%
Drug/alcohol program 53 52.5% 18 17.8% 14 13.9% 16 15.8%
Mentoring by caring adults 35 34.7% 34 33.7% 18 17.8% 14 13.9%
Family counseling 38 37.6% 32 31.7% 17 16.8% 14 13.9%
Individual counseling 43 43.0% 25 25.0% 20 20.0% 12 12.0%
Social skills classes 39 38.2% 28 27.5% 24 23.5% 11 10.8%
Having a safe place from family when needed 65 64.4% 23 22.8% 7 6.9% 6 5.9%

Discussion and conclusions

The youth who participated in this initial survey were primarily:

  • 16 years old or older
  • detained for 6 months or less
  • arrested 6 or more times
  • detained for probation/parole violations
  • had experienced some degree of physical or sexual abuse

These demographics indicate a need for intervention programming aimed at assisting this high risk population successfully break the cycle of criminal behavior.

Based on youth perceptions of what programs they thought would help them succeed, there are several areas that present opportunities for programming. Job training and computer training, both as inside and outside of facility programs, were activities that were rated highly as being important in helping youth succeed outside of detention. This indicates that youth are eager to receive training that will help them prepare for and obtain a job once they are released. Another programming option that was highly rated for outside the facility was having a safe place for youth to go when needed. This finding suggests that youth need additional positive options outside of their family.

The highly positive ratings of several items by the majority of youth in this study reflect their desire to participate in constructive programs. Although offering programs to incarcerated or recently released youth presents a unique set of challenges, it is evident that there is tremendous need and opportunity. Not preparing these youth to succeed means running the risk of having them repeat past mistakes, because, as studies have shown, youth who are incarcerated have a greater likelihood to become incarcerated adults. Communities have a responsibility to try and help youth not travel this path. A collaborative effort between the juvenile justice system, and resource and programming professionals could help curb this trend, and help this high risk population succeed at reaching their fullest potential.

Letner, J., Brown, R., Killian, E., and Evans, B. 2001, Family and Youth Services Detention Survey: A report of 2001 findings, Extension | University of Nevada, Reno, SP-02-01

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