Ohio County Expands Diversion for Youth With Misdemeanor Charges

Posted February 6, 2017
By the Annie E. Casey Foundation
Blog ohioexpandsdiversionforyouth 2017

The Casey Foun­da­tion award­ed Lucas Coun­ty, Ohio, which includes the city of Tole­do, a pro­ba­tion trans­for­ma­tion grant to test part of a new approach in juve­nile pro­ba­tion. The Foun­da­tion believes that a sig­nif­i­cant per­cent­age of those youth who would be cus­tom­ar­i­ly placed on pro­ba­tion would be bet­ter served if their cas­es were divert­ed from court.

Many juve­nile courts across the coun­try rou­tine­ly sen­tence young peo­ple with mis­de­meanor-lev­el offens­es to pro­ba­tion, or even out-of-home place­ment. Research, how­ev­er, is clear that most ado­les­cents will age out of delin­quent behav­ior, even with­out for­mal juve­nile jus­tice sys­tem involve­ment (see fig­ure 1).

Fur­ther­more, there is no con­clu­sive evi­dence that the tra­di­tion­al approach to juve­nile pro­ba­tion — focused pri­mar­i­ly on a young person’s com­pli­ance with court orders and an officer’s abil­i­ty to track that com­pli­ance — is an effec­tive method for pro­tect­ing pub­lic safe­ty and improv­ing out­comes for youth and fam­i­lies. Rather, the tra­di­tion­al approach has often act­ed as a gate­way to incarceration.

This year, the Lucas Coun­ty Juve­nile Court is giv­ing more youth with mis­de­meanor-lev­el charges the oppor­tu­ni­ty to avoid for­mal sys­tem pro­cess­ing. For Deme­cia Wil­son, Lucas County’s juve­nile pro­ba­tion admin­is­tra­tor, the goal is to deliv­er the right response at the right time” that still ensures pub­lic safety.

Lucas Coun­ty is bet­ting on its abil­i­ty to lever­age its com­mu­ni­ty and fam­i­ly part­ner­ships to pro­vide more ser­vices to youth and fam­i­lies with­out the require­ment of a court order. It is under­tak­ing ini­tia­tives such as map­ping com­mu­ni­ty assets in order to part­ner with com­mu­ni­ty-based orga­ni­za­tions root­ed in the neigh­bor­hoods where large num­bers of sys­tem-involved youth reside. More effec­tive com­mu­ni­ty-based inter­ven­tions are a key com­po­nent of Lucas County’s approach.

Lucas County’s work also has involved a sig­nif­i­cant restruc­tur­ing of its staff and resources. In 2016, the coun­ty expand­ed its com­mu­ni­ty-based assess­ment cen­ter, which now screens all youth charged with mis­de­meanor-lev­el offens­es, includ­ing school-based referrals.

Wil­son not­ed that the assess­ment center’s more sys­tem­at­ic and struc­tured approach to deci­sion mak­ing is reduc­ing racial dis­par­i­ties among youth who are under con­sid­er­a­tion for diver­sion. Bet­ter assess­ment has reduced the num­ber of school-based refer­rals that lead to for­mal charges and reduced pro­ba­tion caseloads.

The pro­ba­tion offi­cers have more time to spend with high­er-risk kids,” Wil­son says. So rela­tion­ships can go deep­er and they can build up those kids’ skills.”

If the per­cent­age of mis­de­meanor cas­es in Lucas Coun­ty stays con­sis­tent with 20112015 num­bers when mis­de­meanors rep­re­sent­ed an aver­age of 72 per­cent of cas­es filed for for­mal pro­cess­ing, one can extrap­o­late that youth involved in approx­i­mate­ly 3,000 cas­es will be con­sid­ered for diver­sion as a mat­ter of pol­i­cy. This is near­ly 2,000 more cas­es than in the past, with half of those like­ly to result in diversion.

A new­ly formed unit called Mis­de­meanor Ser­vices will han­dle most of the remain­ing cas­es, with a youth’s sys­tem involve­ment rang­ing from 30 to 90 days.

Juris­dic­tions with­in Ohio and else­where have observed Lucas County’s Assess­ment Cen­ter or request­ed more infor­ma­tion about it. Wil­son thinks her county’s mod­el is trans­ferrable and scal­able and wel­comes inquiries about replication.

The preva­lence of offend­ing tends to increase from late child­hood, peak in the teenage years (from 15 to 19) and then decline in the ear­ly 20s. This bell-shaped age trend, called the age-crime curve, is uni­ver­sal in West­ern populations.

Check out anoth­er resource on reform­ing juve­nile probation

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