OP-ED: Behind Juvenile Justice Statistics are Real Human Consequences

If it's possible for a public policy research topic to be "in vogue," juvenile justice has been a craze for the past decade. Bookshelves and flash drives have been filled with statistics and studies of crimes by kids and against kids and what approaches are best at preventing and responding to both. The evidence-based practices evolving from this research have helped reduce crime and the number of incarcerated children in America. The bumper crop of research is due in large part to the confluence of tight state budgets and the commitment of the MacArthur Foundation and several other foundations, which have insisted on the collection of data and analysis -- the evidence of best practices. [Editor’s note: The MacArthur Foundation is a funder of the JJIE.]
The latest harvest in that bumper crop has grabbed the attention of policy wonks and could result in even more use of preventative practices that keep kids out of prison cells and deliver successful and less expensive responses at the community level.

New Guide to Program Evaluation Released

The Vera Institute has released a guide to help organizations interested in creating or strengthening a research base for their work. Although written primarily for juvenile justice initiatives, the guide may be helpful for other youth-serving programs as well.

Pennsylvania Finds 20 Percent of Juveniles Re-offend Within Two Years

A new report issued by the Pennsylvania Juvenile Court Judges’ Commission finds that among juveniles whose cases were closed in 2007, one-in-five recidivated within two years. The Pennsylvania Juvenile Justice Recidivism Report found juvenile recidivism rates to be as high as 45 percent in some counties, with the average length between case closure and recidivism to be 11.5 months. The younger a juvenile at the time of one’s first written allegation, the study found, the likelier the juvenile was to recidivate. Conversely, the report found that juveniles who were older at the time of case closures were more likely to recidivate than those whose cases were closed at an earlier age. Additionally, juveniles with more formal dispositions on their cases -- such as placement or probation -- were found to recidivate at higher rates than offenders who were given less formal dispositions, such as counseling.

John Lash

OP-ED: Keep Vigilant for Truth in Reforming Juvenile Justice

As juvenile justice reform moves forward around the country, certain words and phrases are increasingly being thrown about. We see calls for peer reviewed studies, evidence-based practices, demonstration of causal relationships and similar scientific sounding terms. People want to invest time and resources into programs with a real chance of working, and the sheen of objectivism seems to lend weight to evaluations of these programs.
I too want programs that work and that give us the best return on our investments, but I am also leery of an over reliance on scientific approaches, especially in the realm of social control and policy making that is based on a supposed understanding of human behavior. I am, and have been since an early age, a skeptic. I don’t consider myself to be needlessly critical, but in my own life and work I continually question my assumptions and biases. Problems with peer review confirmation bias have long been known to influence which theories gain traction, and now cases of fraud, some quite extensive, are increasingly being unearthed in the research community.

Youth PROMISE Act Reintroduced in Washington

Photo courtesy of Congressman Bobby Scott
On Thursday, Congressman Robert Scott (D-Va.) and Congressman Walter Jones (R-N.C.) reintroduced the Youth Prison Reduction through Opportunities, Mentoring, Intervention, Support and Education (Youth PROMISE) Act. First proposed in 2009, the Act would alter elements of the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act of 1974 and provide funding and other resources for communities to build and implement evidence-based intervention and prevention strategies to curb youth violence, drug use and gang activity. In neighborhoods with the highest rates of youth crime, the Act would establish special councils consisting of local law enforcement, school and court services representatives, who would develop programs to “redirect” young people who are involved, or may become involved, in the juvenile justice system. Councils established by the Act would also include healthcare providers, social services workers and input from other public and private organizations, such as churches and local businesses. More than 200 organizations -- among them, the Children’s Defense Fund, the National Juvenile Justice Network and the American Bar Association -- have demonstrated support for the Youth PROMISE Act.

Oklahoma Commission on Children and Youth Wants Second Chance Program Expanded Statewide

Oklahoma’s Commission on Children and Youth wants a Cleveland County program that assists non-violent offenders with re-entry implemented statewide, the Moore American reported. Introduced in 2009 by Sheriff Joe Lester, the Second Chance Act Program (S-CAP) offers services to women leaving the Cleveland County Detention Center. Since being implemented, the Bureau of Justice funded program has seen a staggering decrease in recidivism levels. Four years ago, 70 percent of women in the program were re-arrested; now, the rate of recidivism for S-CAP participants rests at just 10 percent. “We started this program because it is the right thing to do,” said Lester.

Nebraska’s ‘Culture of Incarceration’ Must be Addressed, Say State Lawmakers

Photo by Nebraska Department of Correctional Services
Several Nebraska state lawmakers are promising reform measures to cut down its youth detention numbers following the release of a prominentAnnie E. Casey Foundation report indicating Nebraska had the nation’s third-highest rate of juvenile incarceration in 2010. According to the KIDS Count data snapshot released last week, Nebraska was one of only six states in the nation to experience an increase in juvenile incarceration rates from 1997 to 2010, growing by eight percent over the 13-year study period. State Sen. Brad Ashford (I-Omaha), inan Associated Press report, said new legislation was vital in addressing the state’s “culture of incarceration.”

“I do not feel we can wait anymore for a real solution to our issues involving juvenile justice,” he told the AP. “This effort is essential.”

A “non-partisan” state senator representing Lincoln, Amanda McGill, is proposing a pilot program that would provide training and assistance to primary care doctors within the state to catch potential behavioral health issues early. Another of her proposals would create a “state fellowship program,” which is designed to draw more behavioral experts to Nebraska.

New Jersey Credits JDAI for Statewide 50 Percent Decrease of Detention Population

Photo credit: Ryan Schill
New Jersey’s juvenile detention population dropped by more than 50 percent from 1997 to 2010, according to data from the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s latest KIDS COUNT data snapshot, released last week. The state Office of the Attorney General(OAG) cited the state’s 16-county implementation of the AECF’s Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative (JDAI) as a major catalyst for the state’s drastic drop in juvenile detention numbers, the sixth-largest overall state decrease recorded by the Casey Foundation over the nearly decade and a half evaluation period. “JDAI continues to be a great story in New Jersey,” Judge Glenn A. Grant, current acting administrative director of the courts, said in an OAG news release. “The collaboration among government agencies, including the Juvenile Justice Commission and county and social service agencies, along with the Annie E. Casey Foundation, is clearly bringing benefits to our youth and our communities at large.”

The news releases states New Jersey has been named by the AEFC the “model” for states wishing to implement JDAI programs. At least eight states, including Massachusetts and Nevada, have sent delegates to New Jersey seeking guidance on how to install the JDAI in their own states. Numerous detention alternative programs have been established in New Jersey via the JDAI.