Bottom line: TYC's sex offender and violent offender treatment programs appear to have quite positive recidivism results, while the agency's now-replaced chemical dependency treatment was a flat-out failure, actually increasing recidivism compared to youth assessed as having chemical dependency who received no treatment.
N.b., recidivism data in the report only include those youth released from TYC through June 2008, since at least one year out of custody was required to assess a one-year recidivism rate. Thus the data does not represent results from the large array of new treatment programming launched since then - both in the general offender treatment everyone goes through and for specialized treatment caseloads. So these data represent results from TYC's pre-reform programming and do not represent outcomes resulting from recent legislatively mandated upgrades.
Still, the data were quite revealing:
Youth who received sex offender treatment were 45.3% less likely to be rearrested within one year of release for a violent offense than sex offenders who received no treatment. Overall, sex offender youth receiving treatment were 11% less likely to be incarcerated within three years than sex-offender youth who did not go through treatment. (Of course, this group tends to have lower overall recidivism rates to begin with.)
Youth going through the capital and violent offender treatment program were a whopping 71.8% less likely to be rearrested within a year of release for a violent offense than similarly situated youth who did not go through the program, and 20.5% less likely to be reincarcerated within a year. However, the three-year recividism rate for was 50% higher than the agency expected. That tells me the capital and violent treatment program appears effective in the short term, but that the breakdown seems to come in community supervision in the out years for youth on parole. Usually the first year after release is associated with the greatest risk of recidivism.
By contrast, TYC's old chemical dependency treatment programming can only be categorized as an abysmal failure. Youth who went through CD treatment were 8.9% more likely to be rearrested in the first year, and 12.3% more likely to be incarcerated three years out compared to youth diagnosed with chemical dependency who received no treatment. What's more, these data are consistent with earlier findings that "The Texas Youth Commission's drug treatment program produces graduates who are more likely to re-offend after release than addicted inmates who did not participate."
That last result deserves serious focus, because TYC is expanding its (supposedly improved) chemical dependency treatment to include moderate-risk youth and those in halfway houses, according to the report. But the truth is, if programming actually increases recidivism, there's really not much reason to provide it at all, much less to expand it to more youth. As the report notes, "Current research indicates that inappropriate placement of youth in a [treatment] level not matched by their needs can be ineffective and lead to worse outcomes." That's possibly what's happening here and it warrants caution in expanding CD programming to non-high-risk youth given these data.
In particular, in 2010 TYC will implement a new pilot program targeting youth with substance abuse treatment needs called Functional Family Therapy that's reportedly produced good results in other jurisdictions. What's more, two new alcohol and drug treatment programs were implemented in 2009, according to the report, and those services were expanded to include moderate-need youth.
While I recognize these treatment programs are different, it still strikes me as premature to expand substance-abuse treatment to moderate-need youth when high-risk youth responded to old treatment protocols by committing more crimes. Why not limit entry into the treatment program to high-risk for a couple of years and see if the recidivism numbers improve?
Of course, correlation does not equal causation and there may be other factors explaining poor CD treatment results, but this report does not identify them. While I've supported evidence-based treatment programming on this blog, "evidence-based" is the key phrase. If evidence shows a particular treatment regimen results in worse outcomes, personally I think those resources should be diverted to activities that empirically produce better results.
Because this analysis focuses on youth released from TYC prior to a series of fairly dramatic changes in the agency's treatment programming, this data does not necessarily indict what TYC is doing now. It could take another 2-3 years before enough data will be in to evaluate long-term recidivism rates from these new programs.
One more observation: The study appears to have excellent control groups, which is great for data analysis but represents a shortcoming in agency programming. Comparison groups "that did not receive specialized treatment consisted of youth ... [who] had been assessed with a high need for a specialized treatment program but who were not assigned to such a program" because of lack of resources, youth disciplinary histories, etc.. That means, though, that a significant number of youth identified as "high need" weren't receiving services prior to June 2008.
For sex offenders, that changed in September 2009 and now "100% of newly committed youth needing all levels of specialized sexual behavior treatment have access to that treatment," according to the report. Given the positive outcomes from past programming, IMO that expansion is well justified. On substance abuse treatment, I'd rather see better results before expanding it more broadly.
This is important data, but it doesn't represent an evaluation of what's happening at TYC treatment programs today. So while I hope the results prompt a much more thorough assessment of why TYC substance-abuse treatment programs failed in the past, I also hope the powers-that-be give agency leaders enough time to evaluate the new treatment programs - which are supposedly more closely aligned with accepted evidence-based practices from other jurisdictions - rather than hammer them over past failures that at this point amount to water under the bridge.