Youth Violence Interventions

Vocational Training and Employment Programs

Youth employment and vocational training programs seek to provide youth with a sense of accomplishment, a steady income, hope for future employment, and a reason to continue their education. Most attempt to reduce risk factors for delinquency, such as early school failure and rebelliousness, and reinforce protective factors, such as gainful employment and a sense of accomplishment.

Evaluations of these programs have yielded mixed results. Effectiveness appears to be largely dependent on whether training includes an intensive educational component or not. Many programs have failed to achieve their stated goals (Hackler 1966, Hackler 1975). A few have been found to be counterproductive.

One educational and vocational intervention aimed at socially and educationally maladjusted youth found slightly higher arrest rates among participants compared to comparison students. Non-consenting youth (youth who did not participate in the program) actually had a higher graduation rate than youth who participated in the program or comparison youth. The evaluators noted that participants could not receive a diploma, and some may have found participation stigmatizing (Ahlstrom 1982).

An evaluation of programs funded under Title II-A of the Job Training Partnership Act found that rates of arrest among male participants who had no criminal record prior to random assignment to the program were higher than control youth who were not in the program (26% versus 19%). A cost-benefit analysis suggested that the program was associated with greater costs than benefits to program participants and society as a whole.

Other programs have achieved more positive effects. Mallar et al. (1982) evaluated the Job Corps, a residential program for out-of-school youth between the ages of 14 and 21. A random sample of program participants from 61 sites were compared to Job Corps eligible youth from sites where participation was low. Program components included remedial education, job skills and health care. Compared to controls, Job Corps participants were five times more likely to earn a high school diploma or GED. The program was also associated with sustained reductions in the rate of delinquency. However, since subjects were not randomly selected, it is unclear to what degree these differences were due to the program and which were due to the effect of self-selection.

Cave and colleagues evaluated JOBSTART, an employment program for low-income dropouts aged 17 to 21. Thirteen sites were evaluated across the country, and eligible youth were randomly assigned to intervention or control groups. The program emphasized basic academic skills, job-training, and various combinations of family support services (e.g., transportation, child care, mentoring, counseling). A greater degree of educational achievement (diploma or GED) was noted among JOBSTART participants compared to controls, and lower rates of criminal offending were noted for the first year after random assignment. Unfortunately, the effect did not persist on four year follow-up. When records were checked again, it was determined that 38% of both experimental and control youth with no pre-program offenses had been arrested at least once (Cave 1990).

The Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention has concluded that most of these programs could not demonstrate lasting benefits (Howell and Bilchik 1995). Positive effects on employment and earnings rarely persist beyond participation in the program. Programs that replace school work with vocational training do not improve educational outcomes. Of nine programs that specifically addressed crime and delinquency prevention, six were found to have no effect and one resulted in an increase in criminal offending. Two (Mallar 1982, Cave 1990) had positive effects, most of which were short term.