Combining cognitive behavioral therapy & behavioral design for success

Reducing Recidivism Among Youth

The incarceration rate in the United States has been increasing dramatically since the 1970’s, sparking growing concerns about both the financial costs and human harms associated with having such a large portion of the population behind bars—and one that is disproportionately made up of members of racial and ethnic minority groups from low-income communities. The challenge that leaders in criminal justice face is how to reduce detention rates without increasing crime. Better yet, are there strategies that minimize both criminal activity and the prison population?

Many social programs and behavioral solutions have shown remarkable results in reducing recidivism among youth. But these programs—and their results—vary widely across states and facilities.

One such solution is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), a framework that takes a practical approach to solving problems. CBT has demonstrated value for helping young people with involvement in the justice system slow down their thinking processes and make more deliberative decisions. Furthermore, when the Cook County Juvenile Temporary Detention Center (JTDC) in Chicago introduced CBT to the youth in its facility, it proved to dramatically reduce a young person’s chance of being readmitted after their release from detention. Naturally, we at ideas42 wanted to know what made the program stand out from other CBT models and how to share it with others who work with youth exposed to the criminal justice system.

ideas42 and the University of Chicago Crime Lab conducted focus groups with the JTDC staff to develop an understanding of the most important parts of the curriculum—and the key strategies for delivering it. We then applied these findings, using what we know from behavioral science and adapting the key lessons from JTDC’s CBT workbooks, to create the Cognitive Behavioral Therapy 2.0 Curriculum and User’s Manual.

These free resources, available to download on our website, combine the elements of CBT that have been most effective at helping youth to manage their own decision-making with hands-on delivery strategies that optimize impact. Sharing this evidence-based approach with those who work with high-priority youth populations nationwide holds great promise in supporting youth development and reducing rates of recidivism. Awarded the 2016 Service and Advocacy for Youth Award by the National Partnership for Juvenile Services, the curriculum has the potential to impact young lives across the country.

Interested in learning more about this work applying behavioral science to a crucial social problem? Reach out to us at or tweet at @ideas42 to join the conversation.