Evaluation Identifies Key Features in Efforts to Reduce Juvenile Incarceration and Racial Inequity

Posted September 9, 2020
By the Annie E. Casey Foundation
Urban keepingyouthoutofthedeepend aspects 2020

What fac­tors are impor­tant when it comes to reduc­ing juve­nile incar­cer­a­tion and oth­er out-of-home place­ments? Lead­er­ship, orga­ni­za­tion­al cul­ture change and racial equi­ty strate­gies — to name a few, accord­ing to a six-year eval­u­a­tion of the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s reform efforts, which have real­ized dra­mat­ic reduc­tions in both out-of-home place­ments for jus­tice-involved youth and dis­parate out­comes between youth of col­or and white youth.

About the evaluation

A team from the Urban Insti­tute and Math­e­mat­i­ca con­duct­ed the eval­u­a­tion, which cen­tered on the process of the work rather than its out­comes. This approach enabled the team to inform the effort as it unfold­ed, doc­u­ment its evo­lu­tion and share lessons that could ben­e­fit sim­i­lar initiatives.

The team pro­duced a pack­age of prod­ucts that includes:

  • a report of over­all findings;
  • a brief on strate­gies used to engage youth and families;
  • a brief on how sites worked to incor­po­rate racial equi­ty and inclusion;
  • a brief on strate­gies to trans­form probation;
  • a brief exam­in­ing how the com­mu­ni­ties used data to devel­op strate­gies and assess their efforts; and
  • an info­graph­ic sum­ma­riz­ing key findings.

The report ends with tech­ni­cal appen­dix­es that doc­u­ment reform activ­i­ties at each site and describe the evaluation’s meth­ods, which includ­ed sur­veys and exten­sive inter­view data.

The eval­u­a­tion team also pub­lished an arti­cle in Youth Vio­lence and Juve­nile Jus­tice that focus­es on trans­form­ing juve­nile pro­ba­tion through cul­ture change.

Down­load the eval­u­a­tion materials

What did the juve­nile reform effort involve?

Youth of col­or are con­sis­tent­ly over­rep­re­sent­ed in court­rooms, deten­tion cen­ters, youth pris­ons and oth­er res­i­den­tial insti­tu­tions. This dis­par­i­ty is most extreme for youth in court-ordered insti­tu­tions — often called the deep end” of the juve­nile jus­tice sys­tem — and for youth who have been trans­ferred from juve­nile to adult crim­i­nal courts.

The Casey Foundation’s deep-end effort spans 12 demon­stra­tion sites across the Unit­ed States and builds on its flag­ship juve­nile jus­tice reform move­ment — Juve­nile Deten­tion Alter­na­tives Ini­tia­tive® — which focus­es on reforms at the ear­ly stages of the juve­nile jus­tice process.

Like JDAI, Casey’s deep-end effort employs data-dri­ven strate­gies that move sys­tems toward equi­ty and specif­i­cal­ly focus on youth of col­or. The 12 sites also engage com­mu­ni­ty orga­ni­za­tions and com­mu­ni­ty mem­bers to increase oppor­tu­ni­ties for young peo­ple of col­or in their own neighborhoods.

Ear­ly results are encour­ag­ing, accord­ing to data col­lect­ed by the Foun­da­tion. From their base­line years to 2018, par­tic­i­pat­ing sites col­lec­tive­ly reduced out-of-home place­ments by 50% for all youth and 51% for African Amer­i­can youth. These changes — which occurred while juve­nile crime rates improved — out­pace reduc­tions in con­fine­ment at the nation­al level.

What did the eval­u­a­tors learn about juve­nile jus­tice reform and juve­nile incarceration?

Although sites shared no sin­gle char­ac­ter­is­tic that appeared linked to the suc­cess of deep-end activ­i­ties, four fac­tors emerged as key to imple­ment­ing reform. These were:

  1. lead­ers in posi­tions of pow­er who were com­mit­ted to reform;
  2. strong com­mu­ni­ty partnerships;
  3. buy-in from staff, part­ners and relat­ed orga­ni­za­tions; and
  4. sub­stan­tial capac­i­ty to col­lect and ana­lyze data.

The eval­u­a­tors also rec­og­nized par­tic­i­pat­ing sites for:

  • min­i­miz­ing the num­ber of times young peo­ple with mis­de­meanor charges were placed on probation;
  • devel­op­ing mean­ing­ful ways of work­ing with young peo­ple who were assessed as high risk of rearrest;
  • cul­ti­vat­ing a shared under­stand­ing of the pur­pos­es of pro­ba­tion to sus­tain pol­i­cy and prac­tice changes; and
  • lever­ag­ing tech­ni­cal assis­tance, spon­sored by the Foun­da­tion, to fos­ter worth­while dis­cus­sions with staff, part­ners and others.

Key chal­lenges fac­ing sites, accord­ing to the eval­u­a­tion, were:

  • chang­ing sys­tem culture;
  • form­ing new part­ner­ships with fam­i­lies, youth and com­mu­ni­ty; and
  • col­lect­ing and ana­lyz­ing data.

Jef­frey Poiri­er, a senior research asso­ciate at the Foun­da­tion who com­mis­sioned the eval­u­a­tion, said the find­ings offer impor­tant lessons for oth­ers tak­ing on com­plex efforts to reshape systems.

This eval­u­a­tion under­scores the impor­tance of being explic­it about racial equi­ty and equip­ping lead­ers with the under­stand­ing and tools they need to ensure that equi­ty is the north star of their work,” Poiri­er explains. It shows that embed­ding this kind of cul­tur­al change takes buy-in, time and resources — and that fun­ders can play a cat­alyt­ic role in mak­ing that happen.”

Learn more about the evaluation

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