Public concern over rising crime among juveniles has led to renewed efforts to find effective treatment and incarceration facilities for youthful offenders. Many states are turning to private providers such as Youth Services International, Inc.
Founded by Jiffy-Lube entrepreneur W. James Hindman, himself a former delinquent youth, YSI serves 4,000 at-risk or adjudicated juveniles. Adjudicated youth juveniles who have been committed to YSI by the court system compose 65 percent of YSI’s residents. Says Hindman, "about 95 percent of all YSI students have committed crimes in the past."88
YSI’s stated goal is to "change dramatically the thinking and behavior of troubled youth, preparing them to become self-sufficient taxpayers."89 This involves teaching students not just educational and vocational skills, but also behavior-management skills. For example, YSI has created programs such as Victim Awareness, Anger Management, and Alternative Solutions.
YSI’s Charles J. Hickey School in Baltimore, MD runs an enhanced security program for juveniles who have committed crimes ranging from theft to murder. Says YSI public-relations manager Camille Baumgardner, "The Hickey School serves the hard core juvenile delinquent. It’s the highest security program in Maryland. This is their last chance."90 YSI’s Reflections Treatment Agency in Knoxville, TN is a facility designed strictly for criminal sex offenders.
Both programs report relatively low recidivism (repeat offense) rates within one year of release. At the Hickey School, 13 percent of the youth were readjudicated; the recidivism rate at Reflections was 11 percent.91 Comparable one-year recidivism rates are not available, but the U. S. Department of Justice reports that nationally 44 percent of juveniles who commit an aggravated assault (and 45 percent who commit simple assault) are re-arrested and return to juvenile court.92 More useful longitudinal measures of recidivism and other outcomes for juvenile offenders are necessary to assess and compare the value of various juvenile-justice placements.
Despite its tough clientele, YSI says the cornerstone of its programs is education. Says YSI president Henry D. Felton, "YSI is not about incarceration, warehousing, retribution, revenge or punishment. We do not have inmates, we have students."
To serve its students, YSI offers a continuum of placements with different levels of security, ranging from group homes to boot camps. All its education programs are state accredited, offer a high-school diploma or GED, and allow students to earn credits which are transferable to regular public-school systems.
"The youth knows he’s not just doing time, but making the best of his time," says Hindman. "Because of their age, most of these youngsters end up going back to the school system [upon release]." YSI also provides services for nonadjudicated students who are deemed at-risk.
YSI recognizes the importance of measuring results. Says Hindman, "We need to produce proof that our practices and policies work. . . . I believe we are doing a very good job. I want to be able to prove it." To do so, YSI commissioned Advanced Technologies Support Group, Inc., an independent evaluation firm, to survey all residential students discharged between January and September 1995 from the 13 facilities YSI operated at the time. The survey sought to determine whether or not YSI intervention had a positive impact on the students’ rates of recidivism, school attendance, and school performance. Of a total discharged population of 1,408 students, the survey firm was able to contact 863 (or 63 percent). One year from being released or leaving YSI:94
Sixty percent were attending school;
Seventy-seven percent of those students attending school were passing with 2.0 GPA or better;
Eighty-seven percent had stayed out of the courts.
Eighty-six percent of the students felt the YSI program had been beneficial.
The average per-pupil cost per day of YSI programs is $114, but can range from $75 to $220 per day. Says Hindman, "We can save 20 percent of the cost per pupil [compared to similar public residential programs for adjudicated youth] as well as provide a higher quality of education."95 The for-profit company operates nineteen facilities in twelve states and receives juveniles from 36 states.