OUR OPINON: Find the best practices for juvenile problems

Mississippi State University’s Social Science Research Center received notice of a shared $2 million grant this month that could lead to the scientific identification nationwide of best practices in prevention and treatment services for drug abuse and HIV among juvenile offenders.

The five-year research project involves a cooperative effort with MSU, Emory University, Temple University, Texas Christian University, Columbia University and the University of Kentucky.
Angela Robertson, Ph.D., who is associate director and research professor at the center, will lead the Mississippi State work.
Robertson, who has worked widely for 18 years with the juvenile justice system, including juvenile drug courts, in Mississippi, said an October meeting of the cooperating universities in Washington at the National Institutes of Health will start the planning process.

Robertson has conducted research on issues of adolescent delinquency, substance abuse and mental disorders, and STD/HIV risk behavior, since 1994.

Robertson said the overall goal of the five-year study is to develop a compelling body of scientific evidence about treatment and justice programs that would persuade any agency dealing with juveniles, drug issues and HIV/STD risks to adopt a standard, proven regimen.

The result, she said, should be better outcomes individually and more cost-effective programs.

Robertson said the MSU research will be statewide and will include some programs in Northeast Mississippi. She said identifying specific programs should wait until more details are ironed out.

The nationwide project’s official name is The Juvenile Justice-Translational Research on Interventions for Adolescents in the Legal System – JJ-TRIALS, for short.

The partners will include one health care system, Chestnut Health Systems of Illinois.

Some practices like juvenile drug courts have proven effective, and Robertson is a strong proponent of their most effective applications emphasizing rehabilitation and elimination of recidivism.

Robertson is a strong advocate of early identification of childhood physical and sexual abuse, often precursors of juvenile misbehaviors that are both illegal and physically dangerous, like unprotected sex. Honestly confronting the most unpleasant and objectionable causes and outcomes affecting juveniles is essential, where dealing with behavioral facts is more important that presuppositions.

A scientifically measurable regimen for dealing with juvenile issues could mean nationwide improvements in the outcomes of juveniles who enter the programs, regardless of the states of residence.

Using only best practices could lead to better cost controls, an issue that’s always important in revenue-deprived Mississippi.