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Los Angeles Board Of Supervisors Votes To Launch ‘Historic’ Juvenile Diversion Plan

LOS ANGELES — The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously Tuesday to adopt an ambitious plan to divert thousands of the county’s youth away from the juvenile and criminal justice systems, connecting them instead to a comprehensive array of supportive services.

Speakers stepped to the microphones to declare their ardent support for the 78-page report, “A Roadmap for Advancing Youth Diversion in LA County,” which provided the framework for the sweeping strategy proposed.

Dr. Robert Ross, CEO of The California Endowment, speaks to the Los Angeles Board of Supervisors.

“This is an historic day in the history of justice reform,” Dr. Robert Ross told the board. Ross is president and CEO of The California Endowment, one of the largest foundations in the U.S.

“We know that 80 percent of the youth now being arrested in the county could be diverted to community-based services if the plan is realized,” he said. The county could “lead the nation.”

The report said that 13,665 arrests and citations were issued to the county’s young in 2015, according to the Department of Justice Statistics. And approximately 11,000 of those 2015 arrests — “including status offenses, misdemeanors, and low-level felonies” — would have been legally eligible for diversion in lieu of arrest or citation under the California Welfare and Institutions Code, had the proposed program been up and running.

Ross also told the board that the Endowment had been supporting restorative justice and diversion programs in California communities such as Long Beach, San Diego and Oakland. And they had promising preliminary data, he said, particularly from Oakland.

In the course of these programs, “young people come face-to-face with the people they have harmed,” and then make a plan for “making it right with the folks they’ve harmed,” he said, plus get health services that address many of the their needs. The programs are “proven to work better than incarceration and cost considerably less,” he said.

Michael Nash, director of the Office of Child Protection, said the program will help ensure that foster youth “have equal access” to the advantages and services of diversion

Another enthusiastic speaker was Michael Nash, the former presiding judge of the Juvenile Court, now the director of the county’s Office of Child Protection.

As a judge, he’d long been supportive of youth diversion, Nash said. And now he was “very concerned” by the numbers of youth crossing over from the child welfare system to the juvenile justice system. “But this program,” he said, will help ensure that foster youth “have equal access” to the advantages and services of diversion.

Several of the speakers described the 18-month process of designing the proposed new strategy as an unusually inclusive one, involving law enforcement leaders, local judges, county officials, health experts, community advocates and young people who had themselves been incarcerated.

The point was emphasized by Kim McGill of the Youth Justice Coalition (YJC) who, with her young colleagues, had come before the board many times, often to protest a vote, such as previous motions having to do with plans to expand the county’s jail system.

But on Tuesday, McGill talked of the honor she and other YJC members felt to be “a part of the youth diversion work group,” and how they “fully support” the plan moving forward.

She also highlighted some additional areas of focus her group thought “should be robustly included in the implementation.” They believe it is essential to protect youth from the “databases that track arrests.” This was mentioned in the report, she said, but it would require oversight.

Another of McGill’s concerns had to do with California’s Senate Bill 395, which was signed by Gov. Jerry Brown in October. The new law guarantees that every young person of age 15 or under will speak to a lawyer before being interrogated by law enforcement. She stressed the necessity of including LA’s Public Defender’s Office and the Alternate Public Defender’s Office as “key partners moving forward,” so that “even young people who are being diverted have an opportunity to speak to counsel.”

Jessica Ellis, the director of Centinela Youth Services, was also on the subcommittee that created the diversion program-to-be. She told the board how “critical” it was to have “system-involved youth” continue to be part of the “implementation phases” of the project. Centinela Youth Service has partnered since 2013 with the Los Angeles Police Department on a successful restorative justice diversion program, which has frequently been cited as evidence that the newly presented countywide strategy is on the right track.

Peter Espinoza, the director of the county’s Office of Diversion and Reentry, had some suggestions along with his praise: the wish that “our menu of services is robust and diverse” and would include “a very serious focus on education and job readiness.” Most of the work he previously did as Superior Court judge, he added, “was aimed at the intersection of educational failure and justice system involvement.” The new diversion

When  it was time for the five board members to vote,  Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, the board’s chairman, asked the board’s executive officer to record a unanimous vote.

“Giving youth access to supportive services as an alternative to arrest and incarceration is both morally imperative and fiscally responsible,” he said later, after the vote was finished.

Motion co-author Janice Hahn agreed: “The best juvenile system is one that keeps kids out of it in the first place.”

This story was written for WitnessLA.

The California Endowment funds coverage in California for Youth Today and the Juvenile Justice Information Exchange.

Los Angeles Supervisors to Vote on Comprehensive, Countywide Youth Diversion Program

WitnessLA

LOS ANGELES — Los Angeles County Supervisors are scheduled to vote today on a motion determining whether or not they will give the go-ahead to a comprehensive plan for a countywide youth diversion program designed to redirect the trajectories of thousands of LA youth who would otherwise be headed for the juvenile justice system.

A committee established this year wrote a detailed, highly researched report on youth diversion strategy, with the goal of “minimizing youth contact with the juvenile or criminal justice system.”

The report, “A Roadmap for Advancing Youth Diversion in LA County,” outlines a three-phase strategy that, according to one of its authors, could have the first stage of the proposed new diversion program up and running within 18 months — or even less.

If fully implemented, the roadmap has the potential to make Los Angeles County, which has the largest juvenile justice system in the U.S., one of the nation’s “most forward thinking counties” in improving the wellbeing of kids who might otherwise struggle with “the lifelong consequences of justice system involvement,” the report said.

Although there is a great deal of variation in diversion programming nationwide, a wide array of research has established that involvement with the justice system produces long-lasting collateral damage for young people.

Justice contacts such as arrest, probation supervision and stays in juvenile lockups are not only stigmatizing but interrupt the young person’s positive development and, lead to an increased risk for dropping out of high school, along with additional childhood trauma. Even one justice system contact reportedly greatly hikes the risk of further justice system contact.

This kite string of consequences too often follows kids into adulthood, affecting one’s ability to earn, leading to increased family disruption and a markedly increased risk of adult incarceration.

About 11,000 youth arrests were reported throughout Los Angeles County in 2015, the report said, “including status offenses, misdemeanors, and low-level felonies,” which would have been legally eligible for diversion in lieu of arrest or citation, under the California Welfare and Institutions Code.

Los Angeles County has made progress in reducing the number of arrests and citations for kids in the last 12 years. According to Department of Justice statistics, the total number of youth arrests and citations plummeted from 56,286 arrests and citations in 2005 to 13,665 in 2015.

This is in part due to a general long-term drop in youth crime, which was helped when, through the passage of Senate Bill 81, the “Juvenile Justice Realignment Bill” signed into law in 2007 by then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, the state drastically reduced and reformed its scandal-plagued California Youth Authority (basically a prison system for youth), and directed that all but a very small percentage of law-breaking juveniles be kept in California’s counties instead of far away from home in the mostly cleaned-up state facilities.

But, as the report points out, the statistical change was also a product of a concerted effort by child advocates and others to reduce “youth involvement in the justice system” altogether, “through collaborative, data-driven efforts” to persuade county officials to treat low-level misbehaviors as a flag that a youth needs help, not a reason to call police.

LA County Probation is now working to close as many of its juvenile camps as is possible, and to turn those remaining camps and juvenile halls into therapeutic, research-guided, “trauma-informed” environments that help and heal, not punish. Campus Kilpatrick, which opened this past summer, is the flagship and pilot for the department’s new ethic.

Juvenile facilities are expensive and have notoriously poor statistical outcomes. For instance, the cost per youth per year in an LA County juvenile probation camp is estimated at more than $247,000, with a recidivism rate (as defined by rearrest within one year) of approximately 33 percent.

In contrast, there are successful community-based organizations such as Centinela Youth Services, which has partnered since 2013 with the Los Angeles Police Department on a restorative justice diversion program that keeps youth who qualify out of the juvenile system if they break the law. This Juvenile Arrest Diversion Program, or JADP, costs an average of $4,000 or less per youth, with a recidivism rate of 8 to 11 percent.

Another urgent reason for the new program to be voted on today, according to juvenile advocates, is the matter of racial disparities.

Even as juvenile arrests declined throughout LA County, racial disparities have grown. Youth of color continue to be disproportionately impacted at all stages of the juvenile justice system, when controlling for offense, and represent 95 percent of youth in the county’s probation camps and juvenile halls.

Early in the process, the  ad-hoc Youth Diversion Subcommittee, supported by consultants from the nonprofit research center Impact Justice, set out five basic goals for the new plan:

  1. Increasing and improving collaboration between law enforcement, community-based organizations and other youth-serving agencies;
  2. Reducing the overall number of youth arrests, referrals to probation and petitions filed;
  3. Reducing racial and ethnic disparities in youth arrests, referrals to probation and petitions filed;
  4. Increasing the number of youth who are connected to services that address their underlying needs without acquiring an arrest or criminal record;
  5. Improving health, academic, economic and other outcomes for youth.

This story was written for WitnessLA.

Public Health, Juvenile Justice System Reformers Are on Common Ground

It’s not every day that people working on health collaborate closely with people who think about how to reform the juvenile justice system. I was recently part of a research project that did just that.

I’m a public health researcher. Recently, my organization, Human Impact Partners, researched and wrote a report looking at how youth arrest can have a lifelong harmful impact for a person. Our report, Reducing Youth Arrests Keeps Kids Healthy and Successful, found that having a youth arrest would:

  • Increase anxiety, stress and other mental health issues
  • Increase the risk of injury and premature mortality
  • Increase labeling as “delinquent,” stigmatization and risk of further rearrest due to labeling
  • Lower opportunity due to higher rates of dropout and unemployment — all of which have well-established ties to long-term health.

We worked with public health departments (Washtenaw County Public Health and the Detroit Health Department), the Michigan Public Health Institute, the Michigan Council on Crime and Delinquency and faith-based community organizers MOSES.

At the same time, one of our collaborating partners, the Michigan Council, had done primary research into youth diversion practices across the entire state of Michigan. Their study, Restoring Kids, Restoring Communities, found that diversion practices varied widely due to varying resources, capacity and philosophies in counties — and less than 1 in 5 actually evaluate their programs. They found that 90 percent of youth diversion program services begin only after a youth has already been arrested due in part to a financial incentive for post-arrest diversion — counties are reimbursed by the state for youth services only after a petition has been filed with the court.

For both our organizations, some of the main recommendations were to stop criminalizing adolescent behavior, train professionals to de-escalate problem behavior before an arrest is necessary and to divert youth away from the juvenile system pre-arrest. This would lead to better health and opportunity outcomes for youth, as well as less involvement in the juvenile system.

As a researcher new to the juvenile justice world, I was surprised about how many policies, programs and interventions exist that would decrease the harmful effects of arrest. Several promising practices we highlighted were:

  • Civil citations programs for youth: Instead of arresting youth for misbehaviors, law enforcement officials can issue a citation to divert them from the juvenile justice system, holding them accountable for their actions while offering supports such as early intervention, counseling, education and other programming. A study of a statewide civil citations program in Florida show that youth in pre-arrest diversion programs are 2.5 times less likely to reoffend. And the program is so cost-effective that they are exploring making civil citations mandatory for several juvenile offenses. In one year, a civil citations program in Florida saved the state at least $13 million.
  • Training police who come into contact with youth about youth development, such as StopWatch, which trained subway police officers and decreased youth arrests from 680 in 2001 to 84 in 2009.
  • Expunging prior arrests from people’s records. A Stanford University study found that average change in yearly income after expungement was almost $6,200, and a Michigan State University paper about expungement for youth found higher rates of college attendance and future earnings.
  • And other restorative justice and trauma-informed approaches.

Several diversion programs that the Michigan Council on Crime and Delinquency highlighted in their report include:

  • The Ingham Teen Court. Youth charged with first-time misdemeanors as well as local students facing suspension/expulsion can have their cases heard before a jury of their peers, rather than face formal court involvement.
  • Wayne County Right TRAC program and prevention services. Wayne County has attracted nationwide attention for their Juvenile Assessment Center, which uses an evidence-based assessment tool to create treatment plans for youth both post-arrest (Right TRAC) but also simply when they are referred for behavioral issues.
  • Washtenaw County Sky Squad. A student-led restorative justice practice where student volunteers lead restorative circles with students in conflict who are at risk of suspension or expulsion and work collaboratively to come to an agreement on how to move forward.

Several of our partners are now moving forward in Detroit and Washtenaw County to try to implement some of the recommendations from the reports.

The funny thing is that while our worlds — juvenile justice system and public health — are worlds away, our philosophies were very similar. Let’s decrease the reach of law enforcement in the lives of children and support them with opportunities to live a fulfilling, successful and healthy life.

Kim Gilhuly leads Human Impact Partners’ Health Instead of Punishment program, which uses public health research, advocacy and capacity building to reform the criminal justice system. She is also responsible for convening alliances of public health and criminal justice stakeholders to advocate for a public health approach to our criminal justice problems.

Some Secure Youth Facilities Are Not Bad and Are Still Needed, Latest Research Shows

As someone who has worked, lived and breathed our mission statement: “Treat all youths in custody as one of our own,” I was ecstatic when the research on the teenage brain and adolescent development made its way into juvenile justice. The 2013 publication of the National Academy of Science’s “Reforming Juvenile Justice, A Developmental Approach” in particular launched new reforms and accelerated existing ones in the facilities and community programs we work with at Performance-based Standards Learning Institute (PbS). I thank the John D. MacArthur Foundation and Laurie Garduque in particular for supporting the research over much of the last two decades that created the so-called Fourth Wave of Reform.

Conversations among corrections and detention leaders and professionals, locally and nationally, changed from how to reduce punishment to how to catch youths doing things right — because that’s what the research says works best. Now standing on solid ground with the adolescent development research, deep-end reformers expanded daily programming to include more time with families, sought out and secured opportunities for youths to work and make connections in the community and trained staff to build healthy, nurturing relationships with youths. Youth councils became more the rule than the exception. At PbS, we created the Kids Got Talent Contest and host the winner each year to travel and perform live as the feature act of our national awards night. I worried the first year we might not get any or only a few submissions but the contest was embraced. Youths and staff were excited to share their talents and the competition has grown each year.

It seems the wave is on a roll.

But, as is so well written and thoughtfully presented in the recent publication “Assuring the Future of Developmental Reform in Juvenile Justice” (I was a member of the panel that identified the threats to the reforms; that became the report), there are challenges to sustaining the reforms and even threats to the long-range objectives because of the reform movement itself. There are many vulnerabilities that put the good work at risk, especially at the deep end of juvenile justice.

To be very clear: My passion is the youths who are in custody. They are the reason I get up and go to work. I don’t want them to be locked up or caught in the web of the juvenile justice system at all. I know the research on the effectiveness of community-based programs and promote diversion. I want juvenile justice reform to do all that’s possible to reduce the use of secure facilities and avoid placing any youths in secure programs when they don’t need them. But if they are, we are morally obligated to provide them with the best services and opportunities we can, to bring the research into practice and keep them on the path to maturing to be healthy, productive and fulfilled adults.

What I fear threatens the powerful reforms sweeping state, county and community residential facilities is using the developmental approach as evidence that all secure facilities must be closed because all facilities are “bad.”

Here’s why: First, as unpopular as it is to say, secure placement is the right place for a very few youths who are dangerous and have developmental needs for interventions that can only be managed in secure settings: serious offenders, repeat offenders and youths who need more structured treatment to prepare them for reentry than a community program can provide. I interviewed a youth in a secure facility who had been playing Russian roulette with his best friend. He pointed the gun to his temple, nothing happened. He pointed at his friend’s temple, it fired, his friend died. He needed intensive treatment and 24-hour supervision. It was the best place for him. He felt safe and cared for and was afraid to return to the community.

Our justice system relies on incarceration. Without secure facilities for young offenders, judges are most likely to send a youth charged with murder or rape to an adult prison rather than to the community. Informally and formally, the system will be restructured to transfer those youths to adult prisons, the opposite result intended by the developmentally based reform efforts to keep youths out of adult prisons. Juvenile justice essentially becomes eliminated as an option, the opposite intention of reform efforts to ensure youths are recognized by our justice system as developmentally different from adults.

Second, the drive to close all juvenile secure facilities infers that all facilities are bad when there is evidence that they are not. Labeling facilities as bad has the same effect as it does when we label youths as bad: They lose motivation to change. It is a quick way to discourage the staff working with the youths every day. Another youth I interviewed in a facility summed it up: “When people tell me I’m bad, it don’t make it easy to be good.”

There are some very good secure treatment facilities across the country.

They don’t get a lot of positive attention in the reform movement but they are having the impact the Fourth Wave intends. Agency directors, facility administrators and line staff who treat youths like they are their own children, create nurturing relationships, partner with parents, create hope for youths and promote their self-confidence and self-awareness. Their data shows youths and staff are safe, and developmentally appropriate programming prepares the youths for reentry.

PbS is the only entity that surveys youths, staff and families twice a year to hear what they have to say about safety, services, relationships, quality of life and culture. I share some of the responses from April 2017 with the full understanding that the information indicates the work ahead as well as the work to date:

  • When asked “What is the best thing this facility did to get you ready to move to your next placement or to go home?” the top three responses were: Learn to make better choices (67 percent), Improve my attitude (61 percent) and Be accountable for my actions (59 percent);
    • Most said their family felt welcome at the facility (70 percent) and that their family and staff generally got along with each other (72 percent);
  • When asked about fairness, 83 percent said staff are fair applying rules about phone calls, 72 percent said staff are fair about discipline issues and 60 percent said the rules are fair.
    • Additionally, 75 percent said staff seemed to genuinely care about them and 68 percent said overall they trust staff.

I was extremely fortunate to be a member of the Forecasting Project working to identify the challenges the reform would face and strategies to ensure the changes were sustained. It was the most remarkable process and thorough examination by the most dedicated and knowledgeable group of individuals I’ve ever experienced. They did not recommend the closing of youth secure facilities.

To move forward, the group recommends that the organizations and individuals promoting reform collaborate and be aware of causing unintended negative consequences. There are more than 50,000 youths in custody, and they need the wave of the adolescent development reform to include them, not wash over them.

Kim Godfrey serves as executive director of the Performance-based Standards Learning Institute (PbS), a national nonprofit dedicated to treating all youths in custody as one of our own. Kim has worked since 1995 developing and directing PbS, a data-driven improvement model  that holds juvenile justice agencies to the highest standards of quality of life, programs and services.

Case Now Strong for Ending Probation’s Place As Default Disposition in Juvenile Justice

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Forty-plus years after sociologist Robert Martinson rocked the worlds of juvenile and criminal justice by declaring that “nothing works” in offender rehabilitation, Jens Ludwig and his colleagues at the Chicago Crime Lab have gone on a remarkable roll.

hub_arrow_2-01In a series of carefully controlled studies since 2012 testing a variety of strategies to prevent delinquency or reverse behavior problems of already adjudicated youth, Ludwig and his team have documented dramatic positive impacts on violent offending, other offending and the closely linked domain of academic success.

  • One study examined the impact of an inexpensive, light-touch intervention program called “Becoming A Man” (or BAM) on seventh- to 10th-graders in some of Chicago’s toughest neighborhoods. In BAM, trained counselors employ cognitive-behavioral techniques to teach groups of high-risk students to “stop, look, and listen” in emotionally charged situations where poor decisions can lead to severe consequences. Students assigned to BAM (plus an after-school sports program) had 44 percent fewer violent crime arrests during the program period and 38 percent fewer arrests for other offenses than a randomly assigned control group. The intervention, which also yielded long-term gains in academic achievement, cost only $1,100 per participant.
  • In a random assignment study with high-risk ninth- and 10th- graders in Chicago, some students were selected to participate in the same Becoming A Man program, others in BAM plus intensive math tutoring, while a control group received no special services. Again the results were remarkable. Students in either of the treatment groups (BAM, or BAM plus tutoring) proved 66 percent less likely to fail a class than control group youth. Also, they made dramatic gains in math achievement, had 25 percent fewer absences and showed behavioral improvements consistent with a 26 percent reduction in future violent crime arrests.
  • A third study tested the impact of a BAM-like cognitive-behavioral program inside the Cook County Temporary Detention Center, where facility administrators were seeking to improve the quality of care in the facility one unit at a time. From November 2009 to March 2011, youth were randomly assigned either to treatment-as-usual units or to units incorporating the CBT training along with increased educational requirements for staff and a new “token economy” to reward positive behavior. Youth in the reformed units returned to detention 21 percent less often following release, and they were 10 percent less likely to be involved serious disciplinary infractions while in the facility.

Standing on the shoulders of recent research documenting the effectiveness of other adolescent intervention models, these studies leave no doubt that our society has amassed a wealth of new practical knowledge on how to reduce delinquency. Combined with revolutionary advances in brain science and adolescent development research, the Chicago Crime Lab studies help to clarify the dimensions of a more targeted approach for combating delinquency and improving outcomes for high-risk youth generally.

If only our nation’s juvenile justice systems took proper notice.

Evidence against probation’s effectiveness

Think about it: Well over half of all youth adjudicated delinquent in U.S. juvenile courts each year are sentenced to probation. Even many youth referred to juvenile court but not adjudicated (24 percent in 2013) are placed on informal probation.

Yet there is virtually no evidence that probation as commonly practiced reduces the reoffending rates of youth. Quite the contrary. As I’ll detail below, what research exists on the impact of standard-issue probation suggests that, on balance, it does nothing, or next to nothing, to reduce offending. Nonetheless, probation has remained largely unchanged in recent decades, and it remains the disposition of choice for system-involved youth.

This arrangement may have been defensible in previous eras, when we lacked solid research to understand the dynamics of delinquency, the factors that propel adolescents toward lawbreaking and the characteristics of effective interventions. But that day has passed.

What should we do instead of probation? Well, there are lots of alternatives, and much more experimentation and learning to be done. But based on the Chicago Crime Lab studies and other research I suggest we begin with a pair of three-letter answers, BAM and YAP, plus two more options — citations and intensive tutoring — that lack acronyms but also make tons more sense than standard supervision for many or most youth currently enmeshed in probation.

Before talking about these alternatives, though, let me explain three reasons why probation’s central place in the juvenile justice system is so problematic.

  • The available evidence shows that probation doesn’t work.

In a 2008 review of research on probation (aka community supervision), a team of scholars led by James Bonta reported that, on average, probation was associated with just a 2 percent decrease in recidivism for both youth and adult offenders, and had no impact at all on violent offending. “On the whole,” the study authors reported, “community supervision does not appear to work very well.” Likewise, a 2012 article in the Journal of Crime and Justice reviewed the available research literature and declared that “the impact of community supervision is at best limited and at worst leaves clients more likely to recidivate.” And in 2013, a paper by Ed Latessa and his colleagues at the University of Cincinnati came to a similar conclusion: “traditional community supervision — both as an alternative to residential supervision (probation) and as a means to continue supervision after release from a correctional institution (parole) — is ineffective.”

Most recently, an updated evaluation of Ohio’s RECLAIM programs, published in 2014, found that low-risk youth referred to probation had “a 3 percent greater likelihood of reoffending compared to youth who participated in any other programs.” At every risk level, the RECLAIM study found, youth placed on probation experienced significantly higher reoffending rates than comparable youth whose cases were not processed in juvenile court and were instead placed in diversion programs.

  • New research into brain science and adolescent development makes clear that traditional probation is fundamentally ill-suited to the challenges of reversing behavior problems and fostering success among high-risk youth.

While probation practices vary widely from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, even officer to officer, the core of the juvenile probation model involves a judge imposing a list (often a long one) of rules and requirements the young person must follow, and then a probation officer keeping tabs on the young person and sometimes referring him or her to counseling or treatment services. Whenever youth formally sentenced to probation break these rules — skipping school, failing a drug test, falling behind on restitution payments, missing a required check-in with the probation officer — they are in violation of their probation and may be punished accordingly, up to and including incarceration in state or local correctional institutions. Indeed, a substantial share of youth committed to juvenile corrections facilities each year are sentenced not for committing new crimes but for violating probation rules.

Given what we know about delinquency and adolescent development, probation’s emphasis on surveillance and rule-following makes no sense. Here’s why.

Thanks to new brain imaging technologies developed over the past quarter-century, we now know that the human brain does not fully mature until age 25 or later. The last section of the brain to mature is the prefrontal cortex, which is responsible for controlling impulses, weighing consequences and regulating emotions. Meanwhile, the part of the brain focused on sensation-seeking and risk taking (the limbic system) is unusually active during adolescence.

As a result, law-breaking and other risky behaviors are common, even normal, during adolescence. But in the vast majority of cases, youth grow out of their lawbreaking even without any intervention from the justice or mental health systems. What sense does it make, then, to impose additional rules on already troubled youth, heighten scrutiny of their behaviors and then punish them for entirely predictable transgressions when most would likely desist from delinquency on their own?

Increasingly, scholars have determined that the key difference distinguishing youth who desist from delinquency and those who become chronic offenders is “psychosocial maturity” — the abilities to control impulses, consider the implications of their actions, delay gratification and resist peer pressure — all of which enable the young person to assume adult roles in society (employment, marriage, parenting). As Temple University adolescence scholar Laurence Steinberg and two colleagues explained in a 2015 essay, “Just as immaturity is an important contributor to the emergence of much adolescent misbehavior, maturity is an important contributor to its cessation.”

Meanwhile, another powerful strand of recent research has found that chronic offending is tightly linked to extensive and wide-ranging exposure to trauma in childhood. And delinquency scholars have long recognized the close connection between academic failure and delinquency.

Yet, rather than concentrating first and foremost on helping court-involved young people accelerate their maturation, rather than address the traumas they have experienced or overcome their academic deficits, probation instead imposes additional rules and punishes those who — like most adolescents — are unable or unwilling to follow them.

    • Emerging “what works” research offers a valuable yardstick for determining which types of interventions effectively foster adolescent behavior change.

The juvenile justice field has also been blessed in recent decades with a wealth of new research on what works and doesn’t work in preventing and reversing delinquency. Using meta-analysis, a technique for aggregating the results of many studies to identify cross-cutting findings from an entire body of research, scholars have gleaned several clear lessons.

The first is that some types of interventions work much better than others with delinquent youth. Specifically, programs aimed at deterrence and discipline (Scared Straight, boot camps) tend to actually worsen recidivism. Programs geared toward surveillance (i.e., probation) tend to have little or no effect on recidivism. But therapeutic programs aimed at helping youth accelerate their psychosocial maturation consistently reduce recidivism rates — and by a considerable margin. These counseling and skill-building models include cognitive-behavioral therapy to help youth address anti-social attitudes and learn problem-solving and perspective-taking skills, as well as family counseling and mentoring by volunteers or youth workers in the community.

Second, correctional interventions work best when they target youth at high risk to reoffend. Mark Lipsey of Vanderbilt University has found that delinquency risk is the variable with “the largest relationship by far” with success in juvenile justice intervention programs, and that “larger effect sizes (greater recidivism reductions) [are] associated with higher risk juveniles.” The crucial corollary to this finding is that intervention programs targeting lower-risk youth are far less effective — and can even worsen outcomes.

A third lesson is that close relationships with caring and responsible adults are a key to adolescent behavior change. Canadian scholars Craig Dowden and Donald Andrews have identified relationship-building — the ability to foster open, warm and enthusiastic communication — as “arguably the most important” of the five “core correctional practices” that have consistently proven effective in improving recidivism outcomes.

How to implement reform

Taken together, the research leaves little doubt that continued heavy reliance on surveillance-oriented probation is a flawed strategy, and it is especially problematic when applied to lower-risk youth who are likely to desist from delinquency on their own.

How should the juvenile justice field correct this imbalance?

One option is to fundamentally reorient probation to do what works. This past week, I attended a probation system reform symposium organized by the Robert F. Kennedy National Resource Center for Juvenile Justice. Led by former probation officer John Tuell, the probation reform unit at the RFK Center has developed a rigorous system review process for juvenile probation offices, and it has provided extensive assistance over the past decade to shepherd just over a dozen probation agencies through that process.

Results to date are encouraging. Through the RFK process, juvenile probation agencies are rethinking their mission, improving their screening and assessment processes, crafting new response grids, retraining their officers and expanding the range and quality of their intervention programs. At least in some cases, sites are shifting lower-risk youth away from probation supervision and into diversion programs. Jefferson Parish, Louisiana, for instance, has reduced its probation population by 48 percent since 2011, more than doubled the number of youth diverted from court and developed an array of evidence-based interventions to meet the needs of diverted youth without the stigma of court supervision.

Though some RFK sites are not as focused on reducing probation caseloads or increasing the use of diversion, Tuell described trimming the probation population as “one of the primary goals of system reform.”

“We need to make sure that kids who do not need to be involved do indeed stay out of the justice system,” Tuell added. “And at the same time we still need to be able to address the needs those young people are facing” through effective alternative responses and diversion programs.

However, the RFK Center’s reform model is time-consuming and labor-intensive.  The review process itself takes 10-12 months, followed by an implementation phase that can last a year or longer.  And like any ambitious system reform aiming to shift the culture of entrenched organizations, success depends heavily on motivated participation from administrators and line staff within the local probation agency. With more than 2,000 juvenile probation offices coast to coast, the RFK approach will be difficult to replicate effectively at scale.

That’s why I believe the first step in probation reform should be shrinkage. Many or most of the young people currently assigned to supervision (which, again, doesn’t reduce reoffending) should instead be steered toward interventions with proven power to lower their likelihood of reoffending — or diverted from the juvenile court system entirely and left to mature on their own.

At a minimum, courts should refrain from employing probation to supervise young people whose cases are diverted from court and those who are referred to court but never adjudicated. And even among youth who are adjudicated, formal probation should not be imposed on youth with limited prior offending and low risk to reoffend.

Instead of probation, young people should be steered to effective intervention programs like BAM that employ cognitive behavioral therapy delivered by skilled and personable counselors to help young people learn to resist peer pressure, control their impulses, and apply restraint and forethought in heated situations.

Or they should be assigned mentors in the community who offer coaching, encouragement and support to help youth avoid lapsing back into problematic behavior patterns. For 40 years, Youth Advocate Programs, Inc. (or YAP) has been assigning trained advocates to work with court-involved youth as an alternative to incarceration. These advocates, who hail from the same communities as the youth they serve, form close trusting relationships with the youth and help the young people complete individualized service plans developed in partnership with their families.

A recent analysis found that 86 percent of participating youth in multiple YAP sites nationwide were not arrested while participating in the program, which typically lasts four months, and 93 percent were still living at home when the program completed. (Similar programs not affiliated with YAP operate in Maryland, and in the Twin Cities area of Minnesota.)

Or, given the powerful impacts documented in Chicago, diverted youth should receive intensive math tutoring to help them bridge academic learning gaps that commonly frustrate youth and cause them to drop out of school, greatly exacerbating their risk for delinquency.

Finally, for those youth whose offenses are minor and who show limited risk for future offending, the juvenile court should avoid any action beyond a warning. Indeed, a recent meta-analysis by Canadian scholars Holly Wilson and Robert Hague found that diversion from court is more effective in reducing recidivism than the traditional justice system. Diversion was superior to court processing, whether diverted youth received only a caution or were referred to a counseling or intervention program. In fact, low-risk youth receiving only a caution fared better than those referred to a diversion intervention.

In recent years, Florida has steadily expanded the use of “civil citations” in lieu of arrest and court processing for first-time misdemeanor offenders. In 2014-15, nearly 12,000 young people received these citations.  State recidivism data show that only 4 percent of citation youth reoffended, as compared to 13 percent of youth placed in court-supervised diversion programs and 17 percent for youth placed on probation.

There are, of course, many probation officers, and even some whole probation agencies, who are doing their best to heed the research, divert youth whenever possible and provide the most promising, evidence-based care for youth with more serious offending behaviors who really do require supervision.
But for the hundreds of thousands of youth nationwide who are guilty of minor misbehavior typical for adolescence, the lesson is clear: When it comes to probation, less is more.

This story has been updated.

Bart Lubow on the Juvenile Detention Alternative Initiative (JDAI)

Bart Lubow, who has been working for more than 20 years to reduce the number of youth being sent to detention centers, told a gathering of 700 attendees at the Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative (JDAI) conference in Houston last week that now, “may prove to be a unique moment in juvenile justice history, a time when, as a nation, we shed some of the system’s worst baggage - including our unnecessary and often inappropriate reliance on secure confinement” of youth.

Center for Sustainable Journalism Executive Director Leonard Witt, publisher of the Juvenile Justice Information Exchange and Youth Today, caught up with Lubow to get his take on JDAI initiatives that have expanded to 38 states across the country and become the most widely replicated juvenile justice system reform project in the nation.

Learn more about Bart Lubow, Director of Juvenile Justice Strategy for the Annie E. Casey Foundation.

SAMHSA, MacArthur Foundation to Promote Diversion Programs for Youth With Mental Health Issues

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) and the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation have teamed up for a new $1 million project to divert youth with behavioral health conditions away from the juvenile justice system and into community-based programs and services.

According to SAMHSA, 60-70 percent of youth in the juvenile justice system have a mental disorder and more than 60 percent suffer from a substance abuse disorder. Many of these youth, SAMHSA says, wind up in the juvenile justice system rather than receiving treatment for their underlying disorders.

Up to eight states will be selected competitively to participate in the new collaborative initiative. If selected, states would receive support to develop and initiate policies and programs to divert youth away from the juvenile justice system early.

"This innovative effort will help ensure that fewer at- risk young people fall through the cracks and into an overburdened juvenile justice system that is very often unable to address their underlying behavioral health problems," SAMHSA Administrator Pam Hyde said in a press release. "This initiative focuses on helping divert these youth whenever possible to community-based behavioral health services that can actually turn their lives around for the better."

The program will combine SAMHSA’s Policy Academy initiative and the MacArthur Foundation’s Models for Change Action Network and will emphasize reducing the overrepresentation of youth of color with mental and/or substance use disorders in the juvenile justice system while incorporating mental, substance use and co-occurring screening and assessment practices throughout the juvenile justice system recognizing the important roles of evidence-based practice, treatment, and trauma-informed services.

The National Center for Mental Health, Juvenile Justice at Policy Research Associates, Inc. and the Technical Assistance Collaborative, Inc. have agreed to coordinate the proposed initiative.

“The states selected will have access to leading experts in the field and the latest research and information on front-end diversion policies and programs for youth with co-occurring disorders,” said Laurie Garduque, Director of Justice Reform for the MacArthur Foundation. “With the seamless integration of SAMHSA’s and MacArthur’s demonstrated strategies for effective training and technical assistance, we will promote broader diffusion and new adaptations of models of best practices to states committed to systems reform.”

 

The Story of an Armed Robbery and a Second Chance, Part 2

Editor’s Note: This is part two of a two-part opinion piece written by Judge Teske. Part one appeared in this space Tuesday.

James and Matthew -- the boys who robbed Henry, a pizza deliveryman, at gun point -- stood in court telling him they were sorry as they wiped the tears from their eyes. With my permission, Henry walked to the bar, reached across and shook the boys’ hands, and said in a soft voice, "I forgive you." Henry also had tears. Despite his plea not to send them to prison, he has accepted their fate -- a fate pretty much accepted in custom and practice -- prison.

A transfer from adult court made the offense a designated felony in juvenile court, making them eligible to serve from one to five years in a youth development campus. These places have razor wire fences. Let’s not mince words: They are prisons.

Henry's plea for a second chance made me think about the impact of incarceration on youth in the United States and in Georgia.

Countless studies have shown that detention is ineffective at treating kids and reducing recidivism; in fact, a number of well-designed studies suggest that correctional placements actually exacerbate criminality. Why should we be surprised? Consider the following facts about our youth facilities across America.

According to a 2008 study, the United States detained children at a rate five times that of other Western nations, despite a violent crime rate only marginally higher than those nations. According to the FBI, only 12 percent of the nearly 150,000 delinquent youth placed in facilities were there because they committed violent crimes. Why do we let our anger get in the way of being smart? When are the adults going to grow up?

Since 1970, systemic violence, abuse and/or excessive use of isolation or restraint have been documented in juvenile facilities of 39 states. In at least 22 states, there is evidence of continued mistreatment since 2000.

Georgia, where my juvenile court is located, is no exception.  Investigations are currently unfolding at youth detention centers in the state. We are fortunate to have leadership responding in a transparent fashion -- to get to the truth -- no matter how horrible! This is how we reform juvenile justice in Georgia, or anywhere.

Not only are we mixing non-violent youth with the violent, many of them are documented with mental health disorders including learning and emotional behavior disorders.

One study revealed that the rate of detention was nearly three times that of the general population. Despite the exorbitant daily costs to house these kids, most facilities are ill-prepared to address the needs of many confined youth. It should be no surprise that 30 percent have attempted suicide, 70 percent have seen someone severely injured or killed, and 72 percent had something very bad or terrible happen to them.

In contrast, and the most compelling, is a  2009 analysis of 361 studies that determined that the strongest results are achieved by community programs employing therapeutic counseling, skill building and case management approaches which have worked to reduced recidivism by at least 12 percent.

So I did the unthinkable. I released James and Matthew, but to a program that made their home and school a prison. Inspired by Henry's words, I named it the Second Chance Program.

With the help of the Department of Juvenile Justice and our local System of Care, we quickly constructed an intensive program for high-risk designated felons. James, Matthew and all designated felons chosen for this program are placed under house arrest for up to six months with GPS monitoring. We know where they are at all times.

One of the keys to reducing recidivism is breaking up the delinquent network -- their anti-social peers. The cognitive shift needed for these boys to turn from a delinquent attitude demands a disconnect from delinquent influences.

Without this first step, all the good treatment and good programming is pretty much worthless. Despite today’s technology with GPS tracking, I am perplexed we still use detention -- a more expensive option -- as a default for community protection, especially given the fact that only about 12 percent are incarcerated for violent offenses.

The irony is that we say to ourselves it is needed to get them away from a "bad environment," but yet we send them to a facility full of delinquent kids, the best training school for delinquency.

They attend an evening reporting center each day after school, and over the next year they undergo intensive behavioral training that includes cognitive restructuring, substance abuse counseling, life skills training, job readiness, weekly drug tests and family functional therapy.

They come to court every Tuesday night to make a report and the parents must attend. They are, after all, the key. They too undergo parental counseling to develop skills to manage their child. The first Tuesday of every month they must dress in business attire. After six months they begin the phase down period. After one year, they are transferred to regular probation -- provided they have demonstrated a change in thinking and behavior.

James made it. Matthew did not.

Here's the kicker: If you get revoked, the sentence is five years. Matthew violated his house arrest. The community and the survival of the program require harsh responses to serious violations. These kids are not average probationers subject to traditional graduated sanctions.

James? Well, it’s been more than two years and he is about to graduate high school after having excelled in all classes, joined ROTC, enjoyed most sports and rescued a bus driver from an attack. Now he is set to enter the armed forces this summer.

I haven’t admitted another adult transfer since James and Matthew -- and may never again -- although the other judges have and they are doing very well.

Given what we know about the recidivism rates of kids sent to youth prisons across the country, 50 percent and higher re-offend within two years compared to 32 to 37 percent for similarly situated kids placed in community programs with evidence-based programming.

So far, the Second Chance Program has a 36 percent revocation rate. I said "revocation" not "recidivism." About a third of the revocations did not involve new offenses -- they involved violating house arrest -- public safety is foremost.

It’s still early to make claims of success, but the outcomes are promising. Kids once gangbanging and committing robberies and burglaries are now making honor roll, working, taking SAT tests and college prep classes, and not using drugs.

More promising is that over half of them would have returned from prison to commit a crime, and now it looks like they won't.

Beyond Scared Straight Producers Make Donation to Program Featured in Recent Episode

Sheriff Chipp Bailey

Sheriff Chipp Bailey, of Mecklenburg County, N.C., has confirmed to JJIE his office received a $10,000 donation from the producers of “Beyond Scared Straight” following the appearance of the county’s “Reality Program” on the controversial A&E television show.

Bailey said the money, provided by Arnold Shapiro Productions, would be used to offset the costs of the food and field trips that are part of the aftercare portion of the “Reality Program." It is unclear whether the producers have made similar payments to other programs filmed for “Beyond Scared Straight”.

The “Reality Program” is designed, according to Bailey, to educate at-risk youth on the realities of prison life and help them avoid making decisions that would land them in jail. In the initial portion of the program, teens are brought to the county jail, and dressed in prison uniforms while deputies intimidate, yell at and berate them. They are shown the jail, placed in cells and eventually meet real inmates who talk about their own lives and the mistakes they’ve made.

scared_straight_seriesA month later, the teens return for the aftercare portion of the program where they can follow up with deputies and talk about the changes in their lives. Bailey says this part of the program is essential to its success.

“You’ve got to break them down first,” Bailey said, “then you can build them back up.”

Bailey said he believes Scared Straight-style programs that do no involve an aftercare program “wouldn’t be worth anything.” It’s the combination of the initial boot camp atmosphere followed by the counseling and relationship building that makes the program so effective, he said.

If it all seems harsh it’s because, “we don’t want to make jail somewhere they want to come,” Bailey said.