The impact of a diversion programme on the pro-criminal attitudes of youth in conflict with the law
Criminologists and social work researcher, amongst other social service professions, have for a long period been interested in developing effective interventions for youth in conflict with the law. Called diversion programmes, these interventions are designed to make a difference in a child’s life by diverting them away from a life in prison, where they learn criminal skills due to their exposure to criminal adults. Diversion programmes for youth in conflict with the law and youth offenders have been implemented in South Africa since the early 1990s. A system has been developed whereby youth are referred by the courts to attend diversion programmes rendered by Department of Social Department and service providers such as NICRO and Khulisa. Governed by the Child Justice Act (Act 75 of 2008), youth offenders are referred, and managed by Social Workers and probation officers of the Department of Social Development. It also stipulates the options and levels of diversion interventions. A further aspect of research interest is the notion of recidivism, or the risk of re-offending that may set a first-time youth offender onto a career path of re-offending. A question frequently asked is: What can be done to prevent a child from re-offending? This has been the topic of many research projects and focuses. A concept that has drawn significant international research is that of pro-criminal attitudes; attitudes that result from the development of certain thought patterns that are conducive to and underlie offending behaviour. By identifying criminal thought patterns in youth that can be termed “pro-criminal”, researcher and practitioners are able to design their programmes in such a way that these pro-criminal thoughts are reduced, improving the chances that the individual will refrain from re-offending. In this way it has been found that cognitive-behavioural interventions such as life skills programmes are most effective in reducing pro-criminal thinking patterns and appear to help with reducing tendencies to re-offend. This study is focused on evaluating the impact of a life skills diversion programme on the pro-criminal attitudes of youth in conflict with the law. The Rhythm of Life diversion programme was developed by the department of Social Development and has been implemented nationally at regional offices where youth offenders are diverted to programmes such as the Rhythm of Life. The central question posed in this study is whether this programme is effective in reducing the criminal thinking styles of youth participating in the programme. The study utilised a quasi-experimental design to examine the research question, using as experimental group, and three groups of youth from a rural area in North West province, as the participants in this programme. Representing the comparison group was a similar group of youth that participated in a Victim Offender Mediation programme. This intervention differed from the skills-training programme in that it did not consist of any training sessions, but only mediation sessions involving offenders and victims. Youth with confirmed offences were included as the experimental group and youth at risk with un-confirmed offending behaviour as the comparison group in the research study. The comparison group and experimental group comprised both male and female offenders between ages 14 and 17 years. In order to ensure optimal presentation of the experimental intervention, the researcher worked with presenters and facilitators in the Rhythm programme, preparing them for the intervention, and extensively refining the content of the intervention and its presentation format. This was done by means of interviews and focus groups with Probation officers, Crime Prevention Coordinators and Generic Social Workers to further explore their understanding of the Rhythm of Life programme and training manual. Youth participants were recruited at three service points and came from youth clients engaged in the Rhythm programme for an eight-week period consisting of weekly group-work sessions. They signed the consent forms along with their parents. These forms were translated in Setswana – their home language. Group sessions were held at the service point’s office and schools where the participants were invited to attend the sessions. Participants received appointment cards that indicated the date and time of the follow-up appointment and they were also reminded of their attendance one week prior to the data collection session. A Pre-test was completed before commencement of the programme, as well as at the end of the eight weeks as a post-test, and once again three months after completion of the study. Three instruments were used: the Psychological Inventory of Criminal Thinking Styles PICTS; Service Perceptions Index (SPI); and Peer Deviancy Scale (PDS). All instruments were compiled in a battery that contained biographical data variables. Questionnaires were made up of the three mentioned scales for the pre- and post-test. The quantitative questionnaire was presented in English and was not translated into any other language seeing that youth participants were able to answer them appropriately. The interview question was open-ended and explored perceptions concerning the benefits of the “Rhythm of Life” programme for each individual participant. After three months of completion, the youth participants attended a single in-depth qualitative interview with each youth participant of the Rhythm of Life and Victim Offender Mediation for a follow-up interview. The qualitative interview was recorded by the researcher. However, after three months, including the focus group recordings, the recordings were translated and transcribed by hired transcription services. The data for quantitative research were analysed by Prof Suria Ellis from NWU Statistical Consultation Services, the researcher, and her supervisor who is knowledgeable about analysing statistics. The three articles presented in this manuscript represent findings from three different focus areas in this study. The first concerns refinement efforts made to the programme in order to prepare the Rhythm programme for implementation as key independent variable. The researcher aimed at ensuring that the programme remained consistent during implementation across different presenters; also that it was optimized for presentation. The second article concerns the quantitative findings with regard to the experimental study involving an experimental and a comparison group involving two groups of youth in conflict with the law, allocated to either the Rhythm of Life or Victim Offender Mediation diversion programme. The findings of this quasi-experimental study indicated various differences with regard to criminal attitudes and thinking styles – objectives frequently associated with life skills-oriented diversion programme outcomes. The third and final article is concerned with qualitative perceptions of the same groups that participated in the experiment regarding their main gains from the programme three months after completion of the programme. This study found, amongst others, that life-style changes seemed easier for participants that had completed the life skills programme. A last section of the dissertation is allocated to conclusions and recommendations with respect to the objectives of this study, and finally the implications of this study for future presentation of the Rhythm of Life programme.
- Health Sciences