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Program Description

Overview Project Back-on-Track (BOT) is an after school program in Gainesville, Florida, designed to help divert youth in the early stages of delinquency from committing future criminal offenses. Through services and activities offered to these youth and their families, the program targets factors thought to contribute to delinquent behavior (e.g., ineffective parenting techniques, impaired parent-child communication, negative peer influences, low self-esteem, and poor problem-solving skills).
Start Date July 1997 (The program is not currently in operation due to recent cuts in the program’s funding.)
Scope local
Type after school
Location urban
Setting private facility (child and adolescent psychiatry outpatient clinic)
Participants elementary through high school students (ages 9–17)
Number of Sites/Grantees one
Number Served 41 (30 of whom completed the program) in 1997
Components BOT consisted of a 4-week cycle of treatment that includes group and family therapies, parent groups (i.e., groups where parents are educated on and discuss issues such as parenting styles, encouragement, etc.), educational sessions (i.e., topical interventions on such topics as anger management, communication skills, etc.), community service projects, and empathy-building exercises (e.g., group discussions of diversity awareness). Most youth were referred for violent offenses and met clinical criteria for conduct disorder. These youths attended the program 2 hours per day, 4 days a week at a child and adolescent psychiatry outpatient clinic setting, allowing for 32 hours of contact with the program per cycle; parents attended the program for 15 hours per cycle. Consistent attendance by both the youth and a parent/primary caregiver was required. Youth were dismissed from the program if they or their parents missed more than 3 hours of program treatments. The 2-hour community service projects were selected by the staff and participants jointly and were approved provided the activity would encourage empathy for others and contribute to the community.
Funding Level $600 per youth per program cycle
Funding Sources Florida Department of Juvenile Justice


Overview The study assessed the effectiveness of Project Back-on-Track in reducing criminal recidivism, as well as its cost-effectiveness.
Evaluators Wade C. Myers, Paul Burton, and Timothy M. Fitzpatrick, University of Florida.

Paula D. Sanders, Kimberly M. Donat, and Jane Cheney, Shands Hospital at the University of Florida
Linda Monaco, Yale Child Study Center
Evaluations Profiled Project Back-on-Track at 1 Year: A Delinquency Treatment Program for Early-Career Juvenile Offenders
Evaluations Planned none
Report Availability Myers, W. C., Burton, P., Sanders, P. D., Donat, K. M., Cheney, J., Fitzpatrick, T., et al. (2000). Project Back-on-Track at 1 year: A delinquency treatment program for early-career juvenile offenders. Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, 39, 1127–1134.


Evaluation Wade C. Myers, M.D.
Associate Professor and Director
Child Psychiatry and the Law Clinic
Department of Psychiatry
University of Florida, Gainesville
Gainesville, FL 32610
Program Wade C. Myers, M.D.
Associate Professor and Director
Child Psychiatry and the Law Clinic
Department of Psychiatry
University of Florida, Gainesville
Gainesville, FL 32610
Profile Updated May 3, 2005

Evaluation: Project Back-on-Track at 1 Year: A Delinquency Treatment Program for Early-Career Juvenile Offenders

Evaluation Description

Evaluation Purpose First, to test whether a short-term program, located in a child and adolescent psychiatry outpatient clinic setting, would reduce the rate of criminal recidivism in those completing the program. Second, to examine whether BOT would be cost-effective by reducing criminal recidivism costs in the treated group.
Evaluation Design Quasi-Experimental: The evaluation compared a group of participants to a comparison group of matched nonparticipants. Participants were the first 30 youth who were referred to BOT who completed the program (73% of the original 41 enrollees). The nonparticipants were also juvenile offenders, who had been processed through the juvenile court and placed on community control (which typically involves monitoring the youth in school and in the community and ensuring compliance with community service or restitution requirements). The comparison group was matched for age, sex, race, and delinquency stage (n = 30). Delinquency stage was defined by the number of arrests received by the youth before enrollment, the age of first arrest, and the number of violent charges received before enrollment. There were no significant differences between the groups on these three variables. Similarly, the mean age of the two groups (approximately 15 years old) did not differ in the two groups. To analyze cost-effectiveness, each act of criminal recidivism was assigned a cost of $3,000 (based on estimates derived from research literature on the costs associated with various crimes) and the total costs were then estimated for the treatment and comparison groups.
Data Collection Methods Secondary Source/Data Review: Recidivism data on the participant and comparison groups were obtained through Florida’s Department of Juvenile Justice.

Test/Assessments: All youth participants were assessed for evidence of psychopathology with the child or adolescent computer version of the Diagnostic Interview for Children and Adolescents-IV (DICA-IV; Reich, Welner, & Herjanic, 1997), and a guardian for each youth completed the parent computer version. This instrument is designed to assess psychiatric problems in children and adolescents. On intake, the youth also completed an intake assessment interview addressing family background and living circumstances, medical and psychiatric history, educational history, social relations, substance abuse history, child abuse, and emotional well-being. A treatment team (led by study author Dr. Wade C. Myers, a board-certified child and adolescent psychiatrist) collectively reviewed all DICA-IV diagnostic findings, intake interview information, arrest records, and other records when available to arrive at best-estimate diagnoses for each youth. Clinical assessment over the 1-month treatment period was used to corroborate all diagnostic findings.

Reich, W., Welner, Z., & Herjanic, B. (1997). Manual for the Diagnostic Interview for Children and Adolescents-IV. North Tonawonda, NY: Multi-Health Systems.
Data Collection Timeframe Data were collected in 1997 and 1998.

Formative/Process Findings

Recruitment/Participation The initial referral sample was almost evenly split between males and females.

Most youth were referred by the District State Attorney’s Office (93.3%). Referrals were based on the youth being an early-career offender and living in the local juvenile justice district. The State Department of Children and Families and surrounding area mental health professionals also referred youth to the program (7%). The majority of completers were referred for violent offenses (84%), including domestic assault and/or battery (32%), aggravated assault and/or battery (20%), assault and/or battery (18%), domestic aggravated assault and/or battery (11%), and sexual battery (2%). Other offenses included throwing a deadly missile (5%), drug offenses (2%), trespassing (2%), retail theft (2%), violation of injunction (2%), and an obscene phone call (2%). The completers were charged with a total of 44 crimes leading to referral.

Eleven of the initial 41 enrollees did not complete BOT (“noncompleters”), each having attended an average of 5.2 treatment days. Of the noncompleters, five attended less than 20% of the program, four attended 20% to 50%, and two attended 50% to 70%. In addition, 10 of the 11 had excessive absences resulting in dismissal. These noncompleters were more likely to be male (p = .010), to be younger (p = .049), and not to have committed a violent referral offense (p < .0001). The noncompleters did not differ from completers on presence or frequency of past offenses.

Fifty-three percent of youth who completed BOT were first-offense juvenile offenders. Those completers who were repeat offenders (47%) had committed a mean of 1.57 offenses before the referral offense.

For youth who completed BOT, age at referral ranged from 9 years to 17 years, with a mean of 14.2 years. Females comprised 63% of these subjects. Ethnicity was 63% African American, 33% White, and 3% Hispanic.

A majority (57%) of the completers lived in a single-parent household, in a relative’s household, or in foster care.

Ninety-three percent of the youth who completed BOT had at least one current DICA-IV diagnosis. Diagnostic findings included conduct disorder (63%), attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (23%), dysthymia (23%), social or specific phobias (23%), generalized anxiety disorder (20%), major depressive episode (17%), oppositional defiant disorder (10%), obsessive-compulsive disorder (10%), marijuana abuse/dependence (10%), alcohol abuse/dependence (7%), separation anxiety disorder (6.7%), gender identity disorder (7%), and enuresis (7%).

Summative/Outcome Findings

Prevention The number of youth with additional criminal offenses at 12-month follow-up was significantly higher in the comparison group than in the BOT completer group (n = 10 vs. n = 3, p = .028). This difference did not reach significance at 9 months, where eight comparison youth and three BOT youth had committed additional offenses by this point (p = .095).

At 9- and 12-month follow-up, the comparison group had committed significantly more offenses than the BOT completer group (14 to 3 crimes at 9 months, p = .032; 21 to 3 crimes at 12 months, p = .012).

At 12-month follow-up, there were no significant differences between the comparison and BOT noncompleter groups with regard to the number of subsequent offenses or average number of crimes committed. However, during the same period, the youth in the BOT noncompleter group, compared with those in the BOT completer group, were significantly more likely to have committed an offense (p = .011) and had committed significantly more offenses, on average (p = .004).

Under the assumption that BOT costs the same amount per offender as enforcing community control in the comparison group, and that each offense entails costs of approximately $3,000, evaluators estimate that the discrepancy in additional criminal offenses between the treatment and comparison groups (21 vs. 3) led to a savings of $54,000.

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Published by Harvard Family Research Project