Progress Accelerates for Eliminating Confinement as a Response to Juvenile Probation Violations

Posted February 6, 2019
By the Annie E. Casey Foundation
Young person with backwards ballcap

More juve­nile jus­tice experts agree that deten­tion or incar­cer­a­tion should nev­er be threat­ened or invoked when young peo­ple break rules imposed on them as con­di­tions of pro­ba­tion. Over the last year, three influ­en­tial orga­ni­za­tions have joined the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s call for more effec­tive respons­es to tech­ni­cal violations.

The Foundation’s May 2018 report, Trans­form­ing Juve­nile Pro­ba­tion: A Vision for Get­ting It Right, made the case for elim­i­nat­ing con­fine­ment as a sanc­tion for tech­ni­cal vio­la­tions of pro­ba­tion, affirm­ing a posi­tion tak­en ear­li­er by the Nation­al Coun­cil of Juve­nile and Fam­i­ly Court Judges. Since then, a report from the Coun­cil of State Government’s Jus­tice Cen­ter and George­town University’s Cen­ter for Juve­nile Jus­tice Reform called on juve­nile jus­tice sys­tems nation­wide to ban the deten­tion and incar­cer­a­tion of youth for tech­ni­cal vio­la­tions of pro­ba­tion and parole.” The Urban Insti­tute expressed its view in an Octo­ber 2018 report: Giv­en the neg­a­tive impacts of incar­cer­a­tion on youth out­comes, bridg­ing research and prac­tice would require strict­ly lim­it­ing the use of con­fine­ment for tech­ni­cal violations.”

End­ing the prac­tice of con­fin­ing young peo­ple for rule vio­la­tions would have sig­nif­i­cant ram­i­fi­ca­tions. The most recent Cen­sus of Juve­niles in Res­i­den­tial Place­ment from the U.S. Depart­ment of Jus­tice found that 23% of youths in cus­tody nation­wide are con­fined for tech­ni­cal vio­la­tions — either for break­ing rules imposed on them as part of their pro­ba­tion or for vio­lat­ing court orders stem­ming from a sta­tus offense, which is con­duct that would not be a crime if it were com­mit­ted by an adult, such as skip­ping school or pos­sess­ing alco­hol. In many juris­dic­tions, more youth are sent to secure res­i­den­tial facil­i­ties for tech­ni­cal vio­la­tions than for vio­lent felonies or any oth­er type of law­break­ing behav­ior. More than two-thirds of young peo­ple con­fined in res­i­den­tial facil­i­ties for tech­ni­cal vio­la­tions in 2015, the most recent year for which data are avail­able, were youth of col­or — far above their share of the nation’s youth population.

Pro­ba­tion is at its best when it is focused on the per­son­al growth and long-term suc­cess of young peo­ple,” says Nate Balis, the direc­tor of Casey’s Juve­nile Jus­tice Strat­e­gy Group. Get­ting pro­ba­tion right means empha­siz­ing sup­port, not com­pli­ance; incen­tives, not sanc­tions; and indi­vid­u­al­ized expec­ta­tions and goals that can moti­vate a young per­son far more than court conditions.”

What works instead of con­fine­ment? Stud­ies indi­cate that incen­tives for pos­i­tive behav­ior and oth­er approach­es appro­pri­ate to ado­les­cent devel­op­ment can be more effec­tive. A recent third-par­ty eval­u­a­tion by the Urban Insti­tute found that two com­mu­ni­ties, Lucas Coun­ty, Ohio, and Pierce Coun­ty, Wash­ing­ton, had made sig­nif­i­cant progress in using such approach­es to trans­form their pro­ba­tion systems.

In addi­tion, the juve­nile court in San­ta Cruz Coun­ty, Cal­i­for­nia, no longer places youth into cor­rec­tion­al facil­i­ties or res­i­den­tial pro­grams for tech­ni­cal vio­la­tions. Pro­ba­tion staff use a sys­tem of con­struc­tive respons­es when young peo­ple fail to meet the expec­ta­tions in their case plans. These respons­es, which pro­ba­tion offi­cers tai­lor to a young person’s behav­ior, reduced the num­ber of youths detained for pro­ba­tion vio­la­tions from 62 in 2011 to just 10 in 2017.

And in 2015, the city of St. Louis began using a new Team Sup­port Approach, in which fam­i­ly mem­bers and oth­er adults involved in a young person’s life work with pro­ba­tion offi­cers and the young per­son to help for­mu­late and revise pro­ba­tion case plans, mon­i­tor the young person’s progress over time and con­duct prob­lem-solv­ing ses­sions. Young peo­ple who left pro­ba­tion in 2016 and ear­ly 2017 were less than half as like­ly to have tech­ni­cal vio­la­tions if at least one such meet­ing was held. Over­all, the share of youth on pro­ba­tion referred back to court on new charges in St. Louis fell from 34% in 2014 to 22% in 2016 and 14% in the first half of 2017.

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