Zhang, S.X., & Zhang, L. (2005). An experimental study of the Los Angeles County repeat offender program: Its implementation and evaluation. Criminology and Public Policy, 4(2):205–236.
- The study examined the impact of the Los Angeles County Repeat Offender Prevention Program (ROPP) on youths’ recidivism and educational outcomes.
- The authors randomly assigned eligible youth to either the treatment group that received ROPP or a control group that received standard probation services. Using data from the Los Angeles Unified School District and probation records, the authors compared the educational outcomes and average recidivism rates of the two groups.
- The study found that ROPP had some early positive impacts on educational outcomes, but many of these gains faded after the first six months of the program. The study also found initial improvements (reductions) in recidivism for the treatment group during the first six months. There were no statistically significant effects of participation in the program on violations of probation.
- The quality of causal evidence presented in this report is moderate because it was based on a randomized controlled trial with high attrition that sufficiently accounted for other relevant factors. This means we are somewhat confident that the estimated effects are attributable to the Los Angeles County ROPP, but other factors might also have contributed.
The Los Angeles County Repeat Offender Prevention Program (ROPP)
Features of the Intervention
The Los Angeles County ROPP offered a suite of coordinated social services aimed at improving school outcomes and reducing the risk of repeat involvement in the criminal justice system. Youth placed on juvenile probation were eligible to participate if they were from the South Central Los Angeles area; were younger than 15-and-a-half years old; and had specific risk factors for recidivism in terms of school behavior or academic problems, history of family problems such as abuse, substance-abuse, and pre-delinquent behavior. Program participants were assigned to a dedicated ROPP deputy probation officer (each with a caseload of 15 to 25 youth) and received a wide array of tailored services including, but not limited to academic tutoring, counseling, gang prevention training, substance abuse education and treatment, and career counseling and employment services.
ROPP deputy probation officers (DPOs) provided participants with an orientation to the program within two days of enrollment and led discussions with youth and their parents starting within two weeks of orientation to develop individualized service plans and link families with service providers. Services, based at one of several comprehensive service sites, began within a week of these initial meetings. Throughout the program, youth met weekly with their ROPP DPO. On average, ROPP DPOs contacted each youth about six times per month, contacted a parent of each youth more than once a month, and contacted a teacher or service provider more than twice a month.
Features of the Study
The authors randomly assigned 327 eligible youth to either the ROPP or control group during the course of the program, which began in September 1999 and ended in 2001. The analysis restricted the sample to youth who successfully terminated their probation term within the two-year study window. The resulting sample of 204 youth was approximately 80 percent male, 60 percent black, and 40 percent Hispanic.
Youth assigned to the treatment group received the opportunity to participate in ROPP. Youth assigned to the control group received standard probation supervised by DPOs (with standard caseloads of 100 to 150 juvenile offenders each) and did not receive any of the specialized services ROPP offered. Standard probation included mandatory monthly meetings with the assigned DPO, referrals to other social services, and often included mandated programs for families, such as parenting classes.
Using data from the Los Angeles Unified School District and DPO case records, the authors compared the average recidivism rates and education outcomes of the two groups. Recidivism was measured by the number of violations of probation and new law violations during the two-year study period. Educational outcomes included school attendance, number of courses passed, and grade point averages. Statistical tests confirmed that the treatment and control groups were similar in terms of age, race, gender, prior involvement with the justice system, and family and school risk factors.
- The study found that the program had some initial positive impacts on education and reduced recidivism, but that many of these gains faded after the first six months of the program.
- Among educational outcomes, the study found that youth in the ROPP group attended more days of school (ranging from an additional 10 to 16 days) in each of the six-month follow-up periods compared with the control group.
- The authors also found that youth in the ROPP group passed a higher number of school courses (an additional 0.86 courses) and had higher grade point averages (an additional 0.028 points), compared with youth in the control group; however, these differences were not significant after six months.
- Among criminal justice outcomes, the authors found that youth assigned to the ROPP group had fewer new law violations in the first six months of the program than youth in the control group (10 percentage points less), but no differences remained for these outcomes after six months. There were no significant differences in the number of probation violations between the ROPP and control group.
Considerations for Interpreting the Findings
The authors included in their analysis only youth who completed the probation program successfully. Youth who moved from the south central Los Angeles area, died, remained on active probation when ROPP terminated, or were sent to other correctional facilities were removed from the evaluation sample. The authors documented the number of youth dropped from the sample for each reason by study condition. However, the results of the study are generalizable only to youth who completed probation and not to all court-involved youth.
Causal Evidence Rating
The quality of causal evidence presented in this report is moderate because it was based on a randomized controlled trial with high attrition that sufficiently controlled for other relevant factors. This means we are somewhat confident that the estimated effects are attributable to the Los Angeles County ROPP, but other factors might also have contributed.