8 Guidance Counselling and Recidivism

Denny Ottone


Youth crime is a significant factor in societies around the world. In Australia and North Queensland in particular, youth crime and recidivism are reaching levels never seen before and present significant problems nationally with detrimental financial and social costs. This literature review will encompass an in-depth analysis of the issue of juvenile delinquency and recidivism as well as its associated impacts. Recommended practices in dealing with this issue will be reviewed as well as a discussion of potential research pathways that could be implemented as a successful intervention to combat this significant dilemma in North Queensland, Australia and potentially other communities worldwide.

Youth crime and recidivism have been highly contentious issues around the world for decades. In Australia and North Queensland in particular, delinquency has remained a constant issue in recent years resulting in adverse impacts on multiple areas of society – most significantly in the social, legal, educational and financial contexts. The Australian Bureau of Statistics (2021) reports that 44,496 individuals aged between 10 and 17 were involved in criminal activity requiring legal proceedings during the 2020 to 2021 time period. Indeed, Testa et al. (2022) report that property crimes – particularly motor vehicle theft – have never been more prevalent as a significant youth crime statistic with regional areas such as Cairns consistently breaking records over the past three years with the numbers of motor vehicles stolen. Recidivism rates remain excessively high… Recidivism rates remain excessively high with reports indicating that even with current intervention strategies, at least 60% of youth remain engaged in criminal activity often extending into adulthood including incarceration (Day et al, 2004).  In addition to this, Allard et al. (2010) report that our First Nation’s youth are overrepresented in the criminal statistics, recidivism and incarceration rates also.

This significant issue requires a consistent focus from support professionals to ensure that understanding of what leads juveniles to offend, what impact delinquency has on life outcomes and what strategies can be employed to avoid recidivism are considered to address this social problem (Cunneen & Luke, 2007). The impacts of youth crime are many, varied and significant and it is critical for Australian and world authorities to have established effective models of support to avoid recidivism in individual cases, minimise the impacts of this issue with victims and perpetrators of the crimes and to allow for effective practice methods to be implemented in areas where the need exists. This review of the pertinent literature will provide an in-depth overview of the problem of youth crime, establish the impact of the problem in society, provide an overview of effective supports and therapies and suggest potential future research directions to address this significant issue in Australia with specificity directed at regional North Queensland.

Juvenile crime was not differentiated from the actions of adults until the early nineteenth century in the majority of Western cultures (Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice [CJCJ], 2022). Indeed, Richards (2011) reports that in Australia children were subject to legal processes almost identical to that of adults until the middle of the nineteenth century and that punishments remained the same in some states until the early twentieth century. The outcome of legal proceedings for juveniles in Australia could include hard labour, incarceration and even corporal punishments – many of these consequences delivered for petty crimes to support the wellbeing of a young person’s family (Richards, 2011).  The majority of Western cultures around the world had created a criminal justice system differentiating juvenile law breakers from that of adults by the middle of the nineteenth century. This differentiation encompassed the understanding that children and youth lack the maturity and experience of an adult thus require specific intervention when responding to criminal acts (CJCJ, 2022; Richards, 2011). Since this time, interventions have been implemented in efforts to curb juvenile crime and avoid recidivism as the impacts on the victims of the crimes and perpetrators themselves are significant.

The impact of juvenile crime in Australia and the wider global community is many and varied, adversely affecting the victims and perpetrators alike (Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention [OJJDP], 2015). The effects on society are significant The effects on society are significant… with education and employment, physical and mental health, social functioning and individual, business and government finances being adversely impacted. Victims of juvenile crime can recover quickly from the turmoil or sustain ongoing impacts including diminished workplace and academic performance, societal participation, physical health ailments as well as depression, anxiety and psychological disorders (Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, 2021). Perpetrators of these types of crimes should they not be alleviated prior to legal proceedings can almost certainly expect to see lower academic achievements leading to poorer employment opportunities, housing dissatisfaction and physical and mental health incapacities (Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, 2021; OJJDP, 2015). The relationship between adverse childhood experiences and mental ill-health leading to involvement in juvenile crime is easily distinguishable (Howe, 2005; OJJDP, 2015).

It is clear that juvenile crime and recidivism is an issue not new to societies around the world. This particular problem has justly had significant political, societal and financial resources committed to minimising delinquent behaviour and improving the wellbeing and life outcomes of victims and perpetrators alike. Effective investigation into this critical worldwide issue to support the reduction of juvenile crime and recidivism is reviewed and suggestions for potential future research are discussed as the need for helping professionals such as counsellors to assist juvenile offenders to avoid recidivism is of critical importance.

Blagg (1997) highlights not only the adverse effects of juvenile crime but the discriminant overrepresentation of Aboriginal people within Australia’s youth crime statistics. Blagg (1997) specifically refers to select communities within Australia adopting a model to utilise the process of shaming within group conferencing to negate continued criminal activity and return to a life of abiding by the laws. Although elements of the model appear to show merit in different countries, Blagg (1997) indicates that a model that increases the scope of police powers with delinquents in a manner similar to policing adults may in fact raise significant doubts in terms of the effectiveness of lowering the rates of recidivism and requires careful consideration, planning and implementation.

Butcher el al. (2019) also discuss the overrepresentation of Aboriginal youth within the justice system adversely affecting the lowering of these rates and instances of recidivism in Australian societyThe overrepresentation of Aboriginal youth within the justice system adversely affects the lowering of these rates and instances of recidivism in Australian society.. Of particular note from the authors is the establishment of differentiation of youth offenders from rural and urban communities. The authors analysed 6, 750 Youth Level of Service/Case Management Inventories and established significant findings – specifically that despite higher rates of delinquency in rural areas, particularly from Aboriginal youth, the assessed risk of being involved in criminal activity between urban and rural settings is of little difference (Butcher et al., 2019). Butcher et al. (2019) note that communities where disorganisation and low rates of collective efficacy are prevalent, violence and recidivism are of higher rates within the youth population. Such communities are more likely experienced in rural areas with higher Indigenous populations. The authors indicate the need for effective research to be undertaken in rural communities to better understand the needs of the juvenile community to support significant decrease in juvenile crime recidivism.

Allard et al. (2010) investigated offences by young people in Queensland over a seven-year timeframe utilising an analysis of records from the Queensland Police Service (QPS) and the Department of Communities. Like Blagg (1997) and Butcher et al. (2019), the findings displayed the overrepresentation of youth of Indigenous background being involved with the juvenile justice system. The analysis indicated that rates of recidivism were lower based on contact with the criminal system. The findings from Allard et al. (2010) display that rates of recidivism were lower when QPS conferencing and cautioning were used primarily with youth offenders over direct court appearances and despite being significantly more likely to have contact with the criminal justice system, First Nation youth were less likely to receive a caution or QPS conference (Allard et al., 2010). Allard et al. (2010) recommend early intervention, parent training programs and Multi-Systemic Therapy (MST) as effective means to lower rates of juvenile recidivism, particularly with our First Nation youth.

An article from Joseph (2007) based on the significantly high rates of recidivism and disproportionate numbers of Maori youth being tried and incarcerated by the New Zealand justice system displays similar links to those from Blagg (1997), Butcher et al (2019) and Allard et al (2010) where First Nation youth are overrepresented in the numbers of youth with a criminal record. Joseph (2007) indicates that to halt the epidemic of Maori youth crime and related recidivism, strengthening the family unit is the catalyst for success (p. 31). Joseph (2007) provides hypotheses to support the redevelopment of the family unit in a traditional manner as a key factor to affect positive change in lowering rates of recidivism and avoiding youth contact with the criminal system from the onset. Joseph’s (2007) findings reflect those of Allard et al. (2010) who suggest early intervention and parent training programs as a mechanism of minimising recidivism are a mechanism for positive change with this critical issue.

Coumarelos and Weatherburn (1995) highlight the unacceptable rates of juvenile recidivism in communities throughout Australia and investigate if the theory of labelling young offenders through the criminal justice system creates a mechanism for recidivism. Like Blagg (1997), Coumarelos and Weatherburn (1995) indicate that the use of shaming as a process within the criminal justice may in fact be a factor increasing recidivism rates and analyse the effectiveness of restorative programs with delinquents as opposed to the justice system pathway. Although Coumarelos and Weatherburn (1995) report that their analysis of the theory that labelling may increase recidivism rates in juvenile offenders lacks empirical evidence, they highlight the importance of implementing strategies such as restorative programs as a mechanism of support. Coumarelos and Weatherburn (1995) suggest that interventions are more effective with repeat offenders when planning to overcome the impact of this serious societal problem.

Like Joseph (2007), Zemel et al. (2018) indicate that disharmony in the family can be a strong precursor to a pathway of juvenile crime. Unlike Joseph (2007) however, Zemel et al.’s (2018) investigation using qualitative semi-structured interviews to investigate the critical problem of juvenile crime and recidivism focused on the young people’s self-control or lack thereof as a major determining factor in juvenile criminal activity. The study based in Israel concludes that low self-control, often from negative childhood experiences, is a significant predetermining factor in youth entering a criminal pathway. Zemel et al. (2018) also report that individuals have the ability to reshape their life trajectory after setbacks due to humans having the ability to choose freely. This knowledge is a beneficial factor in determining support mechanisms for juveniles delving into criminal activity to decrease rates of recidivism (Carroll et al., 2012).

Cunneen and Luke (2007) highlight the importance of reducing recidivism as a critical factor in responding to the critical issue of juvenile crime in Australia. However, their research recognises the limitations of some recidivist studies based on the specific components of what constitutes reoffending. Despite this potential limitation, Cunneen and Luke (2007) recognise that minimising reoffending is an essential component of responding to the issue of juvenile crime Minimising reoffending is an essential component of responding to the issue of juvenile crime. and report the effectiveness of a created study – the Post Release Support Program (PRSP).  The PRSP targets barriers to reintegration into a young person’s community post-release from juvenile detention as well as facilitating successful reintegration processes (Cunneen & Luke, 2007).  Although the reduction in recidivism was the primary goal of this particular program and the results overall from 169 admissions to the program indicated that this success criterion displayed insignificant progress in all but female and Indigenous client groups, 78% of focused semi-structured interviewee responses indicated that the program was supportive in aiding the cessation of criminal activity (Cunneen & Luke, 2007).

Smallbone and Rayment-McHugh (2020) conducted a social experiment with connectedness to the methods employed by Cunneen and Luke (2007) however, targeted their investigation solely on youth crimes involving sexual violence and abuse – a significant factor with youth throughout Australia. Through the presentation of two case studies, Smallbone and Rayment-McHugh (2020) were able to ascertain the effectiveness of an ecological support model where a clinical forensic practice combined with MST and familial support mechanisms were employed within a perpetrator’s community. Smallbone and Rayment-McHugh (2020) identify the significant need for increased forensic psychology services when working with youth displaying involvement in this serious problem area if youth crimes and recidivism is to decrease.

Wong et al. (2022) conducted a Hong Kong-based study with 115 youth with criminal involvement ranging from low to severe risk of recidivism. Therapy was provided in group settings with participants experiencing Cognitive-Behavioural Therapy (CBT), Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) and activity-based supportive counselling. Like Zemel et al. (2018), values of this study included the importance of low self-concept as a precursor for delinquency thus was incorporated within the therapy models. Although activity-based counselling showed some improvement in self-concept and negative emotions, both this style of therapy and MBCT recorded no significant changes in lowering the risk of reoffending (Wong et al., 2022). The CBT group however not only displayed lowering rates of delinquency post-therapy but also improved mental health providing opportunities for consideration as a mechanism of support in lowering youth crime and recidivism in Australia.

Another study designed to reduce recidivism rates with juvenile delinquents involved 141 randomly selected young people (Carney and Buttell, 2003). The study investigated the effectiveness of wraparound service models compared to traditional Australian juvenile court-imposed services where participants were incarcerated in juvenile facilities for short periods before returning to the same or similar living environments. The wraparound services model studied integrated family functioning intervention, development of positive peer relationships, improved school attendance and performance and engagement in recreational activities (Carney & Buttell, 2003).  Although school attendance and performance improved with clients engaging in the wraparound service model, recidivism rates were not significantly different (Carney & Buttell, 2003). The study did determine with some accuracy, however, the risk of certain clients reoffending.

Like Carney and Buttell (2003), James et al. (2013) investigated rates of recidivism for offenders of juveniles in an extended study in the USA using Aftercare programs – programs similar in intervention to wraparound service models. Although James et al.’s (2013) study showed more positive outcomes of lowering rates of recidivism than the study conducted by Carney and Buttell (2003), particularly with respect to short-term effects and identifying which clients may benefit from such and further interventions, the overall recidivism rates were not significantly lowered providing evidence that alternate interventions may be more effective for lowering repeated juvenile crime.

Newton et al. (2018) identify the acknowledged association between unemployment and recidivism. By analysing multiple vocational education and training programs used with convicted criminals resulting in lowered recidivism post-incarceration, the authors provide recommendations for particular programs with suggested implementation timeframes (Newton et al. 2018). Although the study is conducted with primarily adult constituents, the outcomes display some significance for supporting the minimisation of youth crime and recidivism in Australia if the target group are of an older youth-age bracket.  Bradshaw and Roseborough (2005) analysed the effectiveness of restorative justice from 15 select studies based in the USA. Although the limitations of implementing such programs were well documented with several studies displaying little to no improvement in recidivism rates with juvenile offenders, the majority of the studies displayed positive improvements with respect to rates of recidivism. The authors report that if lowered rates of recidivism are the standard by which to assess the effectiveness of interventions for juvenile crime then restorative justice programs must be considered (Bradshaw & Roseborough, 2005).

With addictive behaviours such as drug-taking being a significant risk factor for continued juvenile crime, mindfulness-based treatments are growing in popularity. Witkiewitz et al. (2014) report that programs that incorporate cognitive-behavioural skills in combination with mindfulness practices in environments where substance use could be triggered are effective in lowering rates of relapse. Such intervention shows promise for youth offenders where substance abuse is a catalyst for recidivism.

Wilderness Therapy incorporates similar components of minimising triggering environments by conducting therapeutic interventions with youth in the wilderness (Clem et al., 2015). By incorporating challenging outdoor activities in a supportive group environment, Wilderness Therapy aims to have youth with criminal exposure alter their cognitive patterns through the experiences generated in the wilderness (Clem et al., 2015). Although clients of this therapeutic approach have professed enjoyment, personal development and displayed diminished rates of recidivism post-therapy, the approach displays limited long-term effectiveness (Clem et al., 2015).

A study by Hoogsteder et al. (2018) in the Netherlands with 91 youths saw 68 receive therapy in the form of an individual program utilising specific elements of CBT. The Responsive Aggression Regulation Therapy (Re-ART) model uses the major components of CBT alongside an increased trust and motivation development capacity and a focused increase in self-esteem (Hoogsteder et al., 2018).  When compared to the control group over a period of 2 to 3 years, Re-Art therapy receivers displayed significantly less violent crime, diminished involvement in property crime and recidivism in general (Hoogsteder et al., 2018). Although there was no significant difference in the number of property crimes with violence offences post-intervention, Re-Art therapy demonstrated effectiveness with a wide range of cultural backgrounds.

Like Hoogsteder et al.’s (2018) study using a derivative of CBT, MST has displayed positive results in supporting offenders of juvenile crime and limiting rates of recidivism (Fiendler & Byers, 2013). MST can be described as a model that integrates cognitive-behavioural strategies to assist in supporting youth criminal offenders in achieving specific treatment goals (Fiendler & Byers, 2013). Unlike other therapeutic approaches to supporting juvenile offenders and minimising recidivism, MST is implemented on a case-by-case basis in a client’s home and aims to provide connectedness, belonging and role models through the combined support of family, peers, school and community (Fiendler & Byers, 2013). Indeed, such is the reported success of MST, this therapeutic approach to supporting youth offenders and reducing recidivism is among the most extensively researched (Fiendler & Byers, 2013; Henggeler et al., 1996).

Unlike Wilderness Therapy and wraparound service models, MST has demonstrated long-term reductions in criminal activity and recidivism in studies conducted in the USA MST has demonstrated long-term reductions in criminal activity and recidivism in studies conducted in the USA. (Henggeler et al., 1996). Indeed Henggeler et al. (1996) and Henggeler and Schaeffer (2010) conduct and report on multiple studies throughout the USA where MST is delivered ecologically in individual settings for a multitude of youth crimes – particularly those with high levels of violence – and consistently show reduced criminal activity in the future. Limitations indicated in reports such as those from Smallbone and Rayment-McHugh (2020) where community factors appear to stifle certain support models with youth offenders, MST appears to be able to provide clients with the skills necessary to overcome this particular hurdle in the community (Henggeler & Schaeffer, 2010).

Often support mechanisms for criminal activity can be stifled by the seriousness of offences, however, a study from Boxer et al. (2017) indicates that MST remains effective in circumstances even involving gang-related youth crime. Barnes et al. (2010) indicate that youth involved in gangs generally display high levels of violent behaviour and criminal activity. In the study conducted by Boxer et al. (2017) with 421 youth participants involved in gang-related crime, after participating in MST more than 70% of individuals were not rearrested in a one-year period and displayed diminished participation in violent acts. Boxer et al (2017) do recommend a longer period of MST implementation and follow-up than the 13-month model implemented in their study. Asscher et al. (2014) conducted a longer-term study in the Netherlands over three years concurring with the hypothesis from Boxer et al. (2017) that MST significantly reduces rates of recidivism in youth offenders when implemented and reinforced with check-ins for time frames greater than 12 months.

Tighe et al. (2012) discovered similar effectiveness in a study of 21 families with children engaged in juvenile crime. Tighe et al. (2012) also provide recommendations for extensions to the typical MST model to provide intervention with a delinquent’s peer or peer group who continue to engage in criminal behaviour whilst MST is being delivered to a client and his or her family.  This hypothesis leads to the potential investigation of what further supports could be implemented to support those juvenile clients of MST who re-offend despite active engagement in the therapeutic process.

A Western Australian study from Porter and Nuntavisit (2016) was based on the implementation of MST with families with children involved in crime or at high risk of crime involvement. The study was designed to assess the effectiveness of this therapeutic approach to supporting juvenile antisocial behaviour due to the positive reports derived from other countries (Porter & Nuntavisit, 2016). Utilising data over a 6-year period showed significant decreases in externalising and internalising behaviours in targeted youth, improved mental health and dramatically improved parent/caregiver skillset and confidence (Porter and Nuntavist, 2016). Promisingly, these improvements were still noted in the majority of cases in 6 and 12-month follow-ups post-therapy conclusion.

Despite the significant research and studies implemented as support mechanisms, a uniform approach to responding to and supporting juvenile crime and minimising recidivism is inconsistent (Casey and Siennick, 2022). The issue of juvenile crime is not new and costs of responding to the issue are exorbitant with the State of California alone committing $300 million dollars in the 2020-21 financial year to respond to this critical issue (CJCJ, 2020). Such limitations see a need for further research into this critical social issue in regional and greater Australia where potential solutions to the problem could be reported as a mechanism to support other countries to limit rates of juvenile crime and recidivism. Of equal importance is supporting delinquents in creating a preferred life pathway (Joseph, 2007; Newton et al., 2018).

The review of current literature in the critical context of juvenile crime and recidivism provides a plethora of potential responses to this significant social issue. Although many approaches have been implemented in countries around the world with significant government funds committed to responding to the issue, youth crime and significantly high recidivism rates remain important areas of focus (Boxer et al., 2017; Carroll et al., 2012). Providing a consistent response to the juvenile crime experienced is recommended (Casey & Siennick, 2022). Based on this literature review, a therapeutic approach rather than a wraparound service, educational and/or industry training program appear to reap longer-term and wider client benefits and thus would be selected as the basis of a trial in regional North Queensland, Australia (Asscher et al., 2014; Carney & Buttell, 2003; Joseph, 2007).  Despite the worldwide affirmation of derivatives of CBT including MST as a successful therapeutic approach to responding to youth crime and minimising recidivism, limited studies are available in Queensland despite their reported effectiveness to date (Herbert et al., 2014).  As such, the proposed investigation would involve completing case studies with three youth with active engagement in juvenile crime and recorded recidivist behaviours in regional North Queensland.

A proposed study would incorporate regular connection with three youths aged between 12 and 14; one receiving standard juvenile justice system interventions and two others MST with the study extending for three years. According to Henggeler and Schaeffer (2016), the ideal length of MST intervention is between six to nine months thus would be the length administered. This highly ecological approach would also be adapted to ensure that support for significant peers for the two selected youth would receive intervention as suggested as an approach to minimising the potential for recidivism by Tighe et al. (2012). Due to the positive correlations experienced by Asscher et al. (2014) and Porter and Nuntavisit (2016) with extended follow-ups with clients and their families post-therapy, the proposed study would incorporate check-ins at 6, 12 and 18-months after the completion of the treatment with both offender and family data obtained using semi structured and open interviews such as those presented in the PRSP. Due to the overrepresentation of First Nation’s youth in juvenile crime both the control case and one of the two youth receiving MST would be of Aboriginal and/or Islander background (Allard et al., 2010). As per Chantrill’s (1996) recommendations, significant First Nation Elders would be requested as a support persons for the offending First Nation youth also.

Such a study would provide an opportunity to see the current epidemic of youth crime in the region and the greater Australian context minimised, adequately responded to and see rates of recidivism plummet. Counsellors and helping professionals alike could align interventions to effectively support this problem. Such an outcome would see governments save substantial funds and increase the wellbeing of communities throughout the country (Allard et al., 2010). Of almost equal importance, would be the improvement in our young people’s life trajectory, participation in society and general wellbeing (Zemel et al., 2018).

This review has analysed the literature pertinent to the critical worldwide issue of youth crime and recidivism. The effects of this problem, its history and costs to society have been reported as well as the way in which countries around the world have responded to the problem.  The literature analysis has resulted in the recommendation for a further study addressing youth crime and recidivism in regional Queensland based on the recommendations of empirical studies from world leaders in this area (Henggeler and Schaeffer, 2016; Hoogsteder et al., 2018). Such a study provides further opportunities to respond positively to this crippling social issue and allow for communication with other parts of the country and world in an effort to stem juvenile crime and recidivism.


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