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Life of crime follows most youths out of group probation homes

March 23, 2009|Garrett Therolf

Most children who enter group probation homes in Los Angeles County remain in lives of crime and drugs years later, according to a new Rand Corp. study.

The bleak findings indicate a need to revamp the county's juvenile justice programs and increase funding, according to the report published in the April issue of the American Journal of Public Health.

"We cannot say that these group homes failed to improve anyone's life, but the large number of poor outcomes we observed raises questions about whether the juvenile justice system is as effective in rehabilitating delinquent youths as it should be," said Rajeev Ramchand, the study's lead author.

The think tank's researchers began tracking nearly 450 youths who entered group homes in 1999 and 2000. The final survey, taken in 2007, located 395 of the original participants and found that 66% said they had done something illegal, other than using alcohol or drugs, in the previous year.

Thirty-seven percent reported being arrested within the previous year, and 25% had been in jail or prison every day for the previous 90 days. Female participants were less likely than male respondents to report recent criminal behavior.

Among those who had spent at least one day free in the community in the previous 90 days, 29% said they had recently driven under the influence, and 26% said they had committed simple assaults.

Thirty-six percent of respondents reported recent hard drug use, and 27% reported five or more symptoms of substance dependence. The mortality rate was five times the rate of young people in the general population.

"This was perhaps the most startling finding. Twelve of the 395 respondents were dead when we went looking for them, most of them due to gunshot wounds," Ramchand said.

The study also reported several bright spots. About one-fifth of the participants reported they were not criminally active or in jail. Among the 395, 58% had graduated from high school or obtained a GED, and 63% reported working at a job in the previous year.

Each of the group homes that housed the young people in the study sample offered a range of services, including schooling, substance abuse treatment or education, family therapy, vocational training and other forms of counseling.

Robert Taylor, who heads Los Angeles County's probation department, said in a statement to The Times: "We know that some group homes do not provide the kinds of services this population needs, and that is why there are fewer group homes today than there were when this population was in group homes 10 years ago."

Still, at any given time about 3,000 youths continue to be assigned to probation group homes.

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garrett.therolf@latimes.com

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