Youth under juvenile justice (JJ) supervision are at high-risk of adverse outcomes from substance use, making prevention important. Few studies have examined prevention-related attitudes of JJ employees, yet such attitudes may be important for implementing prevention programs. Attitudes toward prevention may reflect individual characteristics and organizational contexts.

Mixed effects regression was used to analyze data from 492 employees in 36 sites participating in the Juvenile Justice—Translational Research on Interventions for Adolescents in the Legal System (JJ-TRIALS) cooperative agreement. JJ employees’ perceived importance of substance use prevention was measured. Staff-level variables included attitudes, job type, and demographic characteristics. Site-level variables focused on use of evidence-based screening tools, prevention programs, and drug testing.

On average, JJ employees rated substance use prevention as highly important (mean = 45.9, out of 50). JJ employees generally agreed that preventing substance use was part of their agency’s responsibility (mean = 3.8 on scale ranging from 1 to 5). At the site level, 72.2% used an evidence-based screening tool, 22.2% used one or more evidence-based prevention program, and 47.2% used drug testing. Reported importance of prevention was positively associated with site-level use of screening tools and drug testing as well as staff-level attitudes regarding prevention being consistent with the agency’s mission.

The associations between screening and prevention attitudes suggest that commitment to identifying youth needs may result in greater openness to preventing substance use. Future efforts to implement substance use prevention within JJ agencies charged with supervising youth in the community may benefit from highlighting the fit between prevention and the agency’s mission.

Jessica M. Sales, Gail Wasserman, Katherine S. Elkington, Wayne Lehman, Sheena Gardner, Larkin McReynolds, Tisha Wiley and Hannah Knudsen
Health & Justice, 2018 6:12