Survey of Police Chiefs Yields Distressing Responses Regarding Juvenile Justice

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A new report released by the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) takes a look at law enforcement perspectives on young offenders and juvenile justice system collaboration. Nearly 1,000 agency executives were interviewed for the survey, which was supported by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.

According to researchers, nearly four out of five respondents said they believe law enforcement leaders should play pivotal roles in the juvenile justice system.

“We had 79 percent strongly agree or agree that they should play a significant role,” said Aviva Kurash, IACP senior programming manager. “But what the survey then showed was that there was a gap between the role they think they should be playing, which was large, and then when they self reported on the role they actually play.”

Just one out of five respondents viewed themselves or other department leaders as having significant roles in their own community’s juvenile justice system, the report reads.

While close to nine out of 10 respondents said that juvenile offenders belong in separate justice systems from adults, respondents believing that the juvenile justice system improves public safety were in the minority. Barely a quarter of survey takers said the juvenile justice system did precisely that, with even fewer respondents stating that their own local systems provided the same public benefits. Similarly, only one third of respondents said the juvenile justice system, as a whole, promoted rehabilitation of young offenders.

Although national data sets indicate that juvenile crime is decreasing in many jurisdictions, many of the survey takers disagreed, with almost half of respondents stating that juvenile crime was on the upswing in their own communities. Roughly the same percentage of respondents said their agencies collected and analyzed juvenile crime data, although among those that do, almost three-quarters reported sharing their data with other city officials.

Four out of five respondents said that resources for juvenile offenders, like counseling and drug treatment, were available for youths within their own communities. However, only about one third considered those same resources effective. Furthermore, the resources deemed most effective by survey takers -- including things like youth courts, mentoring and vocational training -- were only present in about half of the jurisdictions sampled. And even then, the effectiveness of such programs, as rated by the survey takers, hovered between just 39 and 46 percent.

About 75 percent of respondents believed diversion programs helped deter future juvenile offenses, yet four out of five survey takers said they faced at least one major difficulty in diverting juveniles from formal processing. Just a quarter of executives said they are kept up to date on outcomes for diverted youth, and a slightly smaller percentage said they routinely received data on the success rates of local diversion programs.

Kurash believes that law enforcement and juvenile justice community partners should collaborate together more frequently.

“Only about a quarter of the departments said they’re apprising the outcomes of youth that they divert or refer,” Kurash said. “We think there needs to be more communication so that as law enforcement is referring or diverting youth, that they’re getting back some sort of information.”

Editor’s note: The John D. and Catherine T. McArthur Foundation is a supporter of the JJIE.org

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