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Effectiveness of a Dialectical Behaviour Therapy Program for Incarcerated Female Juvenile Offenders



Background: Female offenders incarcerated in Washington State have demonstrated higher rates of mental health needs than boys. Linehan's (1993a, b) Dialectical Behavioural Therapy (DBT) is an effective treatment for adult women with Borderline Personality Disorder. DBT utilises a combination of skills training, problem solving, and validation to enable patients to reduce self-destructive, impulsive and aggressive behaviours. The prevalence of similar emotional problems among female juvenile offenders suggests that DBT may be an effective strategy for this population. The State of Washington Governor's Juvenile Justice Advisory Committee sponsored a collaborative project conducted by a research team from the University of Washington and the staff at the Juvenile Rehabilitation Administration's Echo Glen Children's Center to evaluate the effectiveness of a DBT intervention.

Method: Pre-post intervention records were compared for female offenders from a mental health and a general population unit where DBT was implemented. Youth on a third unit served as a comparison group. Youth behaviour problems, staff punitive responses were compared before and after the intervention period.

Results: Youth behaviour problems and use of punitive responses by staff decreased compared to the year prior on one cottage (unit) while no behaviour or staff changes were noted on another.

Conclusions: The evaluation demonstrated the efficacy of providing DBT to female offenders in a residential setting and yielded mixed results on behaviour change during the study period that may relate to quality of training and prior youth behaviour problems.