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Class helps teen offenders stay out of trouble for good

A short series of classes that teach troubled teens how to gain control of their lives is keeping them from running afoul of the law again.

In a new study, Brigham Young University professors Bert Burraston, Stephen Bahr and David Cherrington measured the impact of a course that Utah County teens participated in prior to their release from a juvenile detention center.

Of the 39 teens assigned to the class, 18 had no run-ins with the law during the next year. By comparison, only three teens from a control group of 31 were not arrested again in that timeframe.

For those keeping score at home, that’s 46 percent success for the class to just 10 percent for business as usual.

“The point is to get them to reexamine the behaviors that got them in this situation, so that their behavior can start meeting their needs,” said Burraston. “It’s not a complex class, and now we know that it’s effective.”

A non-profit organization called “Real Victory” organizes the six 90-minute class sessions. The material is adapted from the book Gaining Control, written by Bob Bennett in 1987 prior to his election to the U.S. Senate. Bennett’s nephew Bruce Bennett and son Jim Bennett both volunteer as course instructors.

The course focuses on basic human needs and how certain mindsets can lead to behavior that does not serve those needs.

The new study involved teens in Utah County who were the first to participate in the Real Victory class. Upon release, the program provides participants with basic cell phones so they can receive pre-recorded messages of support from friends and family. Because of the success to date, the program is now expanding to other jurisdictions around the state.

The study appears in the International Journal of Offender Therapy and Comparative Criminology. Professor Burraston and Professor Bahr teach sociology at BYU and Professor Cherrington teaches organizational leadership and strategy.

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