Youth in adult prisons: an evaluation of the youthful offender program and therapeutic community in Texas




Perham, Tammy Macy

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Recent juvenile justice reforms aimed at increasing the certainty and severity of punishment also have increased the likelihood that youthful offenders will enter the adult prison system. In response to this distinct population, the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) established the Youthful Offender Program (YOP) for all incarcerated offenders younger than 18 years of age. A central feature of the YOP is the therapeutic community (TC) – primarily for minimum security offenders. Analyses of the participants are largely descriptive; to date, there have been no known evaluations of the TC. Interview and survey data from security and treatment staff at five youth-oriented prisons in Texas, including the Clemens Unit which houses all male offenders in the YOP, suggest youthful offenders are different from adult offenders. As such, they enter prison with a variety of needs and require more time and supervision. Using TDCJ individual-level data of YOP participants from 1996–2002, a treatment group (i.e., TC participants) and a control group (i.e., non-participants) were constructed to assess the impact of participation in the TC on institutional adjustment as measured by the infractions. Descriptive statistics, independent samples t-tests, and chi-square analyses were conducted and discussed. Results from a Cox proportional hazard model indicate participation in the TC does not have an effect on time-to-failure (i.e., disciplinary infractions) within the one-year observation period. A sample of TC participants with short time lags between entry in TDCJ and entry in the TC was drawn for better comparison with non-participants, and additional analyses were conducted. Multiple regression, binomial logistic regression, and survival analysis indicate that participation in the TC has a statistically significant negative effect on the frequency of infractions (i.e., participation is associated with fewer infractions) but does not have an effect on the severity of infractions or time-to-failure. Offender education level was statistically significant in every model, which indicates increased education is associated with fewer infractions, less severe infractions, and decreased hazard of infractions. Other control variables reaching statistical significance were age (i.e., fewer infractions and decreased hazard), property offense (i.e., decreased hazard), and gang affiliation (i.e., more severe infractions).




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