A Bold Vision for Getting Juvenile Probation Right

Posted May 7, 2018
By the Annie E. Casey Foundation
The Casey Foundation is sharing a bold vision for reforming juvenile probation in the United States.

A new report from the Casey Foun­da­tion lays out a vision of sweep­ing changes and new and expand­ed pri­or­i­ties for juve­nile pro­ba­tion. Based on more than 25 years of expe­ri­ence with JDAI™ and five years of study­ing pro­ba­tion with prac­ti­tion­ers, youth, fam­i­lies, researchers and pilot sites, Trans­form­ing Juve­nile Pro­ba­tion: A Vision for Get­ting It Right describes how and why sys­tems must reimag­ine the most com­mon dis­po­si­tion in juve­nile jus­tice to get bet­ter out­comes for young people.

Pro­ba­tion plays a piv­otal role in the juve­nile jus­tice sys­tem, with near­ly 400,000 receiv­ing it in some form each year. Pro­ba­tion should offer court-involved youth who would oth­er­wise be con­fined the chance to remain in the com­mu­ni­ty pro­duc­tive­ly. Evi­dence shows, how­ev­er, that juve­nile pro­ba­tion as its struc­tured now doesn’t work.

Stream our webi­nar on Trans­form­ing Juve­nile Probation

Research demon­strates that sur­veil­lance-ori­ent­ed pro­ba­tion — a judge impos­ing a list of rules that the young per­son must fol­low and a pro­ba­tion offi­cer keep­ing tabs on the youth to mon­i­tor com­pli­ance — is not an effec­tive strat­e­gy for revers­ing delin­quent behav­ior, espe­cial­ly for youth at low risk of rearrest.

Worse, pro­ba­tion often pulls youth who pose min­i­mal risk to pub­lic safe­ty deep­er into the sys­tem. In many juris­dic­tions, more youth are com­mit­ted to res­i­den­tial facil­i­ties for tech­ni­cal pro­ba­tion vio­la­tions, such as break­ing cur­few, than for vio­lent felonies or any oth­er type of law­break­ing behav­ior. This unnec­es­sary con­fine­ment dis­pro­por­tion­ate­ly affects youth of col­or and exac­er­bates the already severe racial and eth­nic dis­par­i­ties plagu­ing juve­nile justice.

Down­load the Trans­form­ing Juve­nile Pro­ba­tion Infographic

But, the report shows, it doesn’t have to be this way. New knowl­edge about ado­les­cent behav­ior and brain devel­op­ment and evi­dence about inter­ven­tion strate­gies that do reduce delin­quen­cy can equip the field to get pro­ba­tion right.

The Foundation’s vision for trans­form­ing pro­ba­tion calls for:

  • dra­mat­i­cal­ly reduc­ing the size of the pro­ba­tion pop­u­la­tion and pro­ba­tion offi­cer case­loads by divert­ing far more youth so they can mature with­out being pulled into the jus­tice system;
  • mak­ing pro­ba­tion a focused inter­ven­tion that pro­motes per­son­al growth, pos­i­tive behav­ioral change and long-term suc­cess for the much small­er pop­u­la­tion of youth who will remain on super­vi­sion case­loads and pose sig­nif­i­cant risks for seri­ous offending;
  • try­ing new inter­ven­tions and let­ting go of out­dat­ed, inef­fec­tive ones;
  • mov­ing from com­pli­ance to sup­port, sanc­tions to incen­tives and stan­dard court con­di­tions to indi­vid­u­al­ized expec­ta­tions and goals;
  • embrac­ing fam­i­lies and com­mu­ni­ty orga­ni­za­tions as part­ners; and
  • set­ting clear and mean­ing­ful out­come goals for pro­ba­tion itself — includ­ing improv­ing racial and eth­nic equi­ty — and hold­ing pro­ba­tion and its part­ner agen­cies account­able for achiev­ing them.

Get­ting pro­ba­tion right means being delib­er­ate about race and draw­ing on fam­i­lies and com­mu­ni­ties to help youth build the skills they need to mature,” says Stephen Bish­op, a senior asso­ciate with the Foundation’s Juve­nile Jus­tice Strat­e­gy Group. Pro­ba­tion is too often focused on try­ing to fix’ youth so they will not break the law again. What it should be is a lever to draw on the resources that will help youth achieve long-term suc­cess. That’s how we make com­mu­ni­ties safe.”

The report pro­vides exam­ples of juris­dic­tions from Los Ange­les to Lucas Coun­ty, Ohio, that are mov­ing toward expand­ed diver­sion and more focused pro­ba­tion to improve out­comes for young peo­ple in trou­ble with the law.

Relat­ed resources:

Read the exec­u­tive sum­ma­ry of Trans­form­ing Juve­nile Pro­ba­tion: A Vision for Get­ting It Right

Read about pro­ba­tion trans­for­ma­tion in Lucas Coun­ty, Ohio

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