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Juvenile Recidivism: Research Design


The efficacy of juvenile prisons has been a controversial subject, due to the rising incidence of recidivism. In the United States, the recidivism rates among young juvenile offenders are reported to be significantly high at almost 94% (Lewis, Yeager, Lovely, Stein & Cobham-Porterreal, 1994). Such high statistical figures for juvenile recidivism suggest that rehabilitation and correction programs available for young offenders through the prison experience may be largely ineffective in achieving the desired objectives. While the experience of incarceration does place juvenile inmates into a position of readiness to accept positive changes and modify their conduct, prison fails to provide these inmates with the skills they need to bring about these changes (Ashker & Kenny, 2008). This study therefore proposes to investigate the causal factors of recidivism and how this problem could be redressed through modifications of juvenile prison programs.


The purpose of this qualitative study is to explore recidivism of juveniles in Connecticut. The central research question that is posed in this study is: How can juvenile prison programs be improved to reduce the rates of recidivism and ensure that young offenders are successfully integrated into the society? The study will address issues such as (a) the reasons for recidivism, (b) how the prison experience contributed to detracted from the participants’ recidivism, (d) the problematic areas in prison programs and (e) how these programs could be improved.

Definition of Variables


Recidivism refers to the repeatedly commission of an act that is contrary to the law of the land (Siegel, 2008).


The risk of re-offending has been measured using the aggregate sample approach to coding risk. , the risk of participants of re-offending is determined by the frequency with which they have come into contact with the juvenile justice system and correctional facilities.

General responsivity

General responsivity has been measured if there is the presence of programs that utilize modeling, role-play, and reinforcement.

Relapse prevention program

A relapse prevention program has its basis on behavioral and social cognitive theories of human behavior. Howell and Enns (1995) state that, “relapse prevention interventions foster the long-term maintenance of adaptive behavior through improved self-management and enhanced self-efficacy,” (p. 151). The program takes into consideration various personal, social and environmental factors which make it easy for an individual to continuously engage in antisocial behavior.

Alternative literacy education

Alternative literacy education engages juveniles through creativity, critical self-awareness, and a shift in how audience and authorship is understood,” (Jacobi, 2008, p. 71).

Family intervention program

Family intervention programs have been proven through research to reduce the rate of recidivism among juveniles. An example of such programs is the multiple-family group intervention (MFGI) which was created to attend to the needs of juvenile delinquents by changing families’ coercive interactional modes (Keiley, 2007).

Proposed Research Design

This study will use a qualitative phenomenological study which entails the use of a sample that is well experienced with the problem under investigation (Leedy & Ormrod, 2005). In this case, the study will use samples of former inmates of the Connecticut juvenile prison. These are individuals who were once (or more than once) jailed at the prison when they were under the age of eighteen. This study design will not permit the researcher to use other sources such as the administrators of the juvenile prison or the parents/guardians of the former juvenile inmates. The reason for this lies in the objectives of the phenomenological research design. The design’s main objective is to equip the researcher with adequate information concerning the experiences of the subjects with the criminal justice system. Even though other parties such as the administrators and guardians of the former inmates may have some theoretical reasons concerning the criminal experience of the subjects, they are not in the best position to give adequate and accurate information.

Flick (2009) states that, “the goal of a qualitative phenomenological research is to describe a lived experience of a phenomenon,” (p.143). The use of the former inmates will enable the researcher to have a look into the world of the subjects before during and after their incarceration. As a result, only the former inmates are able to tell the reasons why they committed crimes in the first place, the reasons why they re-offended and the effectiveness of the prison programs as far as reducing the rate of recidivism is concerned. The greatest advantage of using a qualitative phenomenological research design is its ability to provide the researcher with a deeper understanding of the problem under investigation.

Data collection method

Collection of data for this study will be done using two different methods: in-depth interviews and focus groups. “An in-depth interview is a technique that allows person-to-person discussion and can lead to increased insight into people’s thoughts, feelings, and behavior on important issues,” (Belk, 2006, p.34). In this study, the in-depth interview will be conducted with the use of an unstructured interview script administered by the researcher. The interview script will contain both closed-ended and open-ended questions to allow the researcher to gain more information necessary for the study.

Focus groups are “an informal assembly of participants whose opinions are requested about a specific topic,” (Zikmund, 2003, p.56). Focus groups as a method of data collection will classify the participants into smaller groups according to their ethnic origin, age, gender, and family structures. The researcher will then conduct discussions with each of these groups to enable him to gain a deeper understanding of the factors that led them to engage in criminal behaviors, their rates of recidivism and ways through which the juvenile prison can be improved.

Data analysis

The analysis of the data collected in this study will follow several steps. The transcripts from the interviews and focus group discussions will be analyzed through thematic content analysis using a mixed coding chart. The themes will be derived from the research questions and conceptual framework. In the first phase, data reduction, the transcripts will be read and the text coded sentence by sentence in order to identify the main themes presented by the informants. In the second phase, data display, the themes identified by the informants will be classified into a conceptually clustered matrix (Silverman, 2004). Cross-case analysis will then be used to establish any existing relationships between the themes and to identify converging, diverging, and marginal themes. The final phase will involve drawing conclusions, making inferences and providing recommendations to the juvenile prisons based on the findings. In this stage, the interrelationships between the converging, diverging, mirror and marginal themes will further be examined and studied again in order to identify the major factors that cause juveniles to engage in criminal activities and to re-offend as well as the problematic areas of the juvenile prison and how the program can be improved to enhance its effectiveness.


Ashkar, P. J. & Kenny, D. T. (2008). Views from the inside: Young offenders’ subjective experiences of incarceration, International Journal of Offender Therapy and Comparative Criminology, 52(5), 584-6.

Belk, R.W. (2006). Handbook of qualitative research methods in marketing. London: Edward Elgar Publishing.

Flick, U. (2009). An introduction to qualitative research. London: SAGE.

Howell, A.J. & Enns, R.A. (1995). A high risk recognition program for adolescents in conflict with the law. Canadian Psychology, 36(2), 149.

Jacobi, T. (2008). Writing for change: Engaging juveniles through Alternative Literacy Education. Journal of Correctional Education, 59(2), 71-93.

Keiley, M.K. (2007). Multiple-family group intervention for incarcerated adolescents and their families: A pilot project. Journal of Marital and Family Therapy, 33(1), 106-124.

Leedy, P. D. & Ormrod, J. E. (2005). Practical research: Planning and design (8th ed.). Upper Saddle River: Pearson.

Lewis D.O, Yeager C.A, Lovely R., Stein A. & Cobham-Porterreal, C.S. (1994). A clinical follow-up of delinquent males: ignored variables, unmet needs and the perpetuation of violence. Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 33, 518-28.

Loeber, D. & Farrington, D. (1998). Serious and violent juvenile offenders. New York: Sage.

Silverman, D. (2004). Qualitative research: theory, method and practice. London: Sage.

Zikmund, W. (2003). Business research methods (7th ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Thomson/South-Western.

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