This does not mean that recognized, evidence-based programs will not be valuable as templates for best practice. Such an approach instead recognizes that building a system of effective services for adolescent offenders implies more than simply amassing a collection of evidence-based programs. For purposes of innovation, juvenile justice service systems will include programs that are variants of more established practices, and the challenge is to ensure that these services, as well as those touted as evidence-based, provide quality care. By measuring program adherence to the principles marking effective programs, a locale can increase the chances that all programs promote positive change in enrolled adolescents.
Looking Forward. The central point of this section on evidence-based services is that improving services in the juvenile justice system requires an ongoing process of program development and monitoring of the delivery of services. Although it is clearly necessary to develop more innovative and proven methods for intervening with adolescent offenders, it is also critical to make sure that these services can be put into practice as designed. Ongoing organizational assessment and quality improvement are essential tasks for improving the design, delivery, and ultimate effectiveness of services for juvenile offenders.
A first, necessary step in this effort would be the development of methods for collecting information about the organizational features and regularities of service provision in both institutions and community-based services for juvenile offenders. Efforts at measuring organizational and community-based program climates have been undertaken (Altschuler and Armstrong, 1996; Armstrong and McKenzie, 2000; Mulvey, Schubert, and Odgers, 2010), some quality improvement strategies have been developed (e.g., Performance Based Standards for Youth Correction and Detention Facilities at http://pbstandards.org/initiatives/performance-based-standards-pbs) (Torbet et al., 1996), and some research has been done on the effects of organizational dimensions and program content on outcomes (Glisson, 2007; Schubert et al., 2012). The scope of this work, however, is very limited, given the centrality of these issues for improving services for these adolescents.
The overall vision for improving services in the juvenile justice system does not rest solely with the development of more evidence-based interventions or with the establishment of quality improvement processes. Both are necessary, and neither alone is sufficient. Refining intervention models without getting them into practice does little; not knowing what interventions accomplish or how to improve them when they are put into place probably does even less. As John F. Kennedy and others have noted, “A rising tide lifts all boats.” Evidence-based programs provide valuable lessons in how to design a boat that floats well, and an ongoing process of quality improve-