Since the founding of the first juvenile treatment center in the early 19th century, the juvenile justice system has used a model that largely institutes training as a punishment. Known as houses of refuge, courts would send juvenile offenders labeled as abandoned, delinquent or incorrigible to these penitentiary-like institutions. Usually housing a couple hundred young adults, houses of refuge were essentially mini-adult prisons, fortified with high concrete walls and regimented training. Not surprisingly, these institutions suffered from overcrowding, staff abuse and general ineffectiveness.
It was not until the early 20th century that the system evolved. Following the increases in public school funding in the first half of the century, a new type of institution replaced the prison-esque refuge houses with a more education focused system. Initially known as reform schools (or training and industrial schools), these facilities still followed the penitentiary style structure of their predecessors but placed an emphasis on completing educational goals and learning life skills to more effectively modify their behavior.
Today, reform schools are referred to as youth correctional institutions, adhering to the congregate institutional model and continuing the tradition of concentrating a large number of young adults into highly regimented, prison-like institutions. Due to numerous flaws, namely its attempt to treat a social issue with isolation and punishment as well as being mostly devoid of any meaningful form of therapeutic treatment, the congregate institutional model has become commonly viewed to be ineffective as well.
With incarceration rates soaring (2.4 million people are incarcerated each day in the U.S., with over 70,000 young adults locked up in correctional programs for juvenile offenders every year), there is a growing demand for less punitive and more effective juvenile rehabilitation programs. By the late 20th century, community-based programs began to gain traction as a healthier alternative to juvenile institutions.
The Rise of Community Programs
According to studies from the early 1990s, when community programs began gaining popularity, young adults undergoing treatment at these facilities saw greater reductions in recidivism than with correctional institutions. This is attributed to increased interactions between treatment providers and the students as well as increased contact with outside agencies (community service programs, interventionists, etc.) as well.
Community programs in general are influenced to some degree by the Altschuler and Armstrong model, which basically states that adolescent behavioral issues are caused by inadequate and disorganized socialization skills and peer influences, creating a cycle of stress and socially maladjusted behavior. The model stresses that the most effective way to ensure healthy development in at-risk adolescents is to create meaningful sports/activities of interest for them and establish community groups and individuals willing to help monitor them.
Sovereign Health’s White River Academy is a community-based male boarding school that places an emphasis on the development of life skills via community service and social models of therapy. While juvenile treatment programs of the past adhered to a model that centered on “training,” essentially negative reinforcement administered devoid of context (i.e., a real incentive other than parole), community programs such as ours focuses on actual treatment instead of punishment and conditioning.
Studies have shown that facilities that rely on higher control and surveillance of their patients generally suffer from higher relapse rates. While our clinicians limit access to distractions such as media and Internet and stay in close contact with our patients, we do not use incarceration as
“training.” Utilizing a combination of positive reinforcement (such as increased access to media) and life skills training through community service and wilderness challenge activities, our program instills confidence in our students and their ability to return to society as more functional and productive young adults.
White River Academy
In addition to our treatment for behavioral health disorders, we provide a multitude of therapeutic activities that make use of the Utah landscape such as hiking, physical training, equine therapy, white water rafting, canyoneering and bouldering as well.
Almost half of all juvenile defenders are referred to community based programs versus correctional institutions for a good reason: instead of locking young adults up like real criminals, it is far more effective to place them in a program that provides personalized care (that is not administered in mass treatment) as well as an educational and support system that helps them understand and find solutions to their problems.
As juvenile crime rates continue to drop, jurisdictions are increasingly referring juvenile offenders to more treatment oriented facilities such as community programs. If you would like more information regarding our male boarding school, White River Academy, feel free to browse the rest of our site, read patient reviews or contact our 24/7 admissions helpline today.