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HILI Highlight: Model Programs Guide Tribal Youth in the Juvenile Justice System

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Model Programs Guide Literature Review: Tribal Youth in the Juvenile Justice System

OJJDP-Sponsored, April 2016. This literature review cites research on Tribal youth in the juvenile justice systems and details protective factors that can contribute to resiliency and reducing negative outcomes and behaviors. 10 pages. NCJ 249809. 


The UNITY Peer Guides and Healing Indigenous Lives Initiative is dedicated to spreading awareness of available resources to Native youth to help increase community safety, protective factors and reduce youth risky behaviors contributing to juvenile delinquency.

Research has examined the juvenile justice system’s disparate treatment of racial and ethnic minorities. This research includes studies of the disproportionate representation of American Indian and Alaska Native (AI/AN) youth1 across the contact points in the juvenile justice system; the lack of access to treatment, services, and other resources that AI/AN youth can obtain; and the risk factors that may increase AI/AN youth’s contact with the justice system (Lindquist et al. 2014; Rodriguez 2008; Mmari et al. 2009; Rountree 2015).
Outcome Evidence
Few evidence-based programs target tribal youths and the particular problems they face. Below are
examples of evidence-based programs that seek to address problems such as suicide and substance use,
which are prevalent among tribal youths.
American Indian Life Skills Development. Also known as Zuni Life Skills Development, this is a schoolbased, culturally sensitive, suicide-prevention program for AI/AN adolescents. Tailored to AI/AN
norms and values, the curriculum was designed to reduce behavioral and cognitive factors associated
with suicidal thinking and behavior. For the Zuni people, suicide is especially distressing because it is
forbidden in their traditional culture (LaFromboise and Howard–Pitney 1995). Zuni leaders initiated
the development of a suicide prevention program for students in grades 9 and 11, with the goal of
reducing the risk factors related to suicidal behavior.
LaFromboise and Howard–Pitney (1995) found mixed results regarding the curriculum’s impact on
AI/AN students. The intervention group showed significantly fewer feelings of hopelessness and
demonstrated a significantly higher level of suicide intervention skills than the no-intervention group.
Intervention students also demonstrated significantly higher levels of problem-solving skills, but only
in the more mild suicide scenario, and not in the more serious suicide scenario. But there were no
significant effects on measures of suicide probability and depression.
Cherokee Talking Circle (CTC). CTC is a culturally based intervention targeting substance use among
AI/AN adolescents. The program was designed for students who were part of the United Keetoowah
Band of Cherokee Indians, the eighth largest tribe in Oklahoma. The goal of CTC is to reduce substance
use, with abstinence as the ideal outcome. CTC integrates Keetoowah–Cherokee values into the
intervention and is based on the Cherokee concept of self-reliance. The Keetoowah–Cherokee use selfreliance as part of their overall worldview that all things come together to form a whole. Keetoowah–
Cherokee leaders note that self-reliance is a way of life that directly affects health and helps maintain
balance (Lowe et al. 2012).
An evaluation by Lowe and colleagues (2012) found that CTC was significantly more effective overall
in reducing substance use and other related problem behaviors among AI/AN adolescents, compared
with noncultural, standard substance abuse education programs.
Bicultural Competence Skills Approach. This is an intervention designed to prevent abuse of tobacco,
alcohol, and other drugs by AI/AN adolescents by teaching them social skills. Intervention groups are
led by two AI/AN counselors and include 10 to 15 sessions, of 50 minutes each. Through cognitive and
Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention 6
behavioral methods tailored to the cultural prerogatives and reality of the lives of AI/AN youths,
participants are instructed in and practice communication, coping, and discrimination skills. All
sessions include discussion of AI/AN values, legends, and stories.
Schinke and colleagues (1988) found that at the 6-month follow up, program students were significantly
more knowledgeable about substance use and abuse and held less favorable attitudes about substance
use in the AI/AN culture; scored higher on measures of knowledge of substance abuse, self-control,
alternative suggestions, and assertiveness; and reported less use of smoked tobacco, smokeless tobacco,
alcohol, marijuana, and inhalants in the previous 14 days than their control group counterparts. At the
3-year follow up, Schinke, Tepavac, and Cole (2000) found that rates of smokeless tobacco, alcohol, and
marijuana use were lower by 43 percent, 24 percent, and 53 percent, respectively, for those who received
the life skills training, as compared with the control group.
Project Venture. This is an outdoor/experiential program that targets at-risk AI/AN youths. The
program concentrates on AI/AN cultural values—such as learning from the natural world, spiritual
awareness, family, and respect—to promote healthy, prosocial development. The goals of Project
Venture are to help youths develop a positive self-concept, effective social and communication skills, a
community service ethic, decision-making and problem-solving skills, and self-efficacy. By fostering
these skills, the program aims to build generalized resilience; increase youths’ resistance to alcohol,
tobacco, and other drugs; and prevent other problem behaviors.
At the 18-month follow up, Carter, Straits, and Hall (2007) found mixed results; however, overall the
program had a significant effect on alcohol use. Treatment youths demonstrated less growth in
substance use, as measured by the four outcome measures (cigarettes, marijuana, alcohol, and other
illicit substances) taken together. However, looking at the outcome measures separately, there was a
significant effect found only for alcohol use. The other substances followed trends similar to alcohol
use, but were not significant.