The Juvenile Offender Substance Abuse Treatment Services (JOSATS) Network is a federal demonstration project sponsored by the Center for Substance Abuse Treatment (CSAT). The Network was created with the primary goal of reducing recidivism and substance abuse by juvenile offenders in Travis County through the creation of a coordinated service system for substance abuse treatment, mental health treatment, juvenile justice supervision, and other ancillary services.

Process evaluation focuses primarily on the development, implementation, and on-going operations of the Network. Despite the typical difficulties involved in forming working relationships among agencies and programs with widely different philosophies and values, the JOSATS Network has emerged as a responsive and effective network of services relevant to the needs of juvenile offenders. Among the most important accomplishments of the Network are the development of timely and effective screening and evaluation processes (i.e., the Juvenile Assessment Center), the identification of Phoenix Academy as the primary provider of substance abuse treatment services, and the inclusion of Austin Child Guidance Center as the provider of mental health services. Continuing challenges include the specification of effective case management services in the Network, the development and utilization of an integrated Management Information System, and the inclusion of additional providers that could expand the range of service needs evidenced by juvenile offenders. Overall, Network processes were successful in designing and implementing a coordinated system of service delivery for drug-involved juvenile offenders.

The outcome evaluation focuses more narrowly on the impact services had on groups of clients. Based on urinalysis results, the JOSATS juveniles had more involvement with drugs pre-adjudication than did the comparison group. However, post-adjudication, the JOSATS group showed less use of drugs than did the comparison group. For those youth who were tested both pre- and post-adjudication, the JOSATS group evidenced statistically significant improvement while the comparison group youth did not. Specifically, more JOSATS juveniles decreased their use of drugs after entering the program.

The treatment of juveniles with both substance abuse and mental health problems is an area of particular challenge. In the JOSATS Network, a mental health treatment provider was included and a substantial portion of the juveniles was dually diagnosed. The fact that two-thirds (67.4%) of the JOSATS youth receiving mental health and substance abuse treatment showed improvement over the course of treatment is remarkable.

In terms of recidivism, the results are less clear-cut. No statistically significant differences existed between the JOSATS and comparison youth. Generally, both groups showed a decrease in referrals while on probation (although the decrease was somewhat less for the JOSATS juveniles because of increased scrutiny inherent in the intervention). After release from probation, those comparison group juveniles who had not received any substance abuse treatment showed the greatest increase in referrals, although this result was not statistically significant. Nevertheless, given that the offenses of substance-using juvenile offenders often worsen with time, this is a positive finding.

Based on this evaluation of the JOSATS Network, the following recommendations are made:

  • The JOSATS Network should be continued and expanded to include more secure service options, better-coordinated and targeted family interventions (e.g. Multisystemic therapy), improved coordination of sanctions, providers to enhance educational and career development, and transitional residential services.
  • Efforts to improve communication need to be continued and, if possible, strengthened, both within agencies and between partners.
  • The Juvenile Assessment Center should be maintained with a full complement of CASI assessors.
  • TCJP should continue efforts to create a useful, integrated MIS.
  • Effective and timely use of the MIS should become part of TCJP staff performance evaluations and Network member contracts.

Center for Substance Abuse Treatment Programs, National Institutes of Health
Criminal Justice Planning Council, Juvenile Court, Travis County