Resources for Juvenile Probation Reform

Posted June 8, 2021
By the Annie E. Casey Foundation
Young man looks at camera

Pro­ba­tion plays a piv­otal role in the juve­nile jus­tice sys­tem. More young peo­ple who enter the nation’s juve­nile jus­tice sys­tem wind up on pro­ba­tion than with any oth­er out­come. Every year, near­ly half a mil­lion youths are giv­en some form of juve­nile pro­ba­tion. More than half of these young peo­ple either are nev­er found delin­quent in court or are found to have com­mit­ted sta­tus offens­es ― con­duct that would not be a crime for adults, such as skip­ping school or pos­sess­ing alcohol.

Inequal­i­ty with­in the juve­nile pro­ba­tion system

As the most com­mon dis­po­si­tion, pro­ba­tion plays a large role in per­pet­u­at­ing the vast and con­tin­u­ing over­rep­re­sen­ta­tion of Black, Lati­no and oth­er youth of col­or in the juve­nile jus­tice sys­tem. In 2017, the most cur­rent year for which data are avail­able, 55% of all pro­ba­tion dis­po­si­tions involved youth of col­or — far high­er than their share of the total youth pop­u­la­tion (46%). Even more wor­ri­some, 64% of young peo­ple held in res­i­den­tial cus­tody in 2017 for a tech­ni­cal vio­la­tion — which usu­al­ly involves break­ing pro­ba­tion rules rather than being charged with a new offense — were youth of color.

An enor­mous oppor­tu­ni­ty to improve the entire juve­nile jus­tice system

Giv­en juve­nile probation’s sig­nif­i­cant foot­print, trans­form­ing juve­nile pro­ba­tion presents an enor­mous oppor­tu­ni­ty to improve the entire juve­nile jus­tice sys­tem. Giv­en research on ado­les­cent behav­ior and brain devel­op­ment and evi­dence about inter­ven­tions that con­sis­tent­ly reduce delin­quen­cy, the knowl­edge now exists to get juve­nile pro­ba­tion right.

Casey-Sup­port­ed Resources on Juve­nile Pro­ba­tion Best Practices

Below are resources, pro­duced or fund­ed by the Annie E. Casey Foun­da­tion, that pro­vide key tips, tools and rec­om­men­da­tions for trans­form­ing juve­nile pro­ba­tion. They are orga­nized here to help users find the right resource for their need.

If you’re look­ing for an intro­duc­tion to juve­nile jus­tice, read…

What Is Juve­nile Justice?

This blog post from the Annie E. Casey Foun­da­tion describes the juve­nile jus­tice sys­tem and its stat­ed goal of help­ing young peo­ple avoid future delin­quen­cy and mature into law-abid­ing adults. The post pro­vides con­text for juve­nile pro­ba­tion and notes the research find­ing that pro­ba­tion is inef­fec­tive in revers­ing delin­quent behav­ior and pro­duces espe­cial­ly poor results for youth who pose a low risk of being arrest­ed again.

If you’re look­ing for an intro­duc­tion to pro­ba­tion trans­for­ma­tion, consider…

Trans­form­ing Juve­nile Pro­ba­tion: A Vision for Get­ting It Right

A three-minute explain­er video from the Annie E. Casey Foun­da­tion shows how juve­nile pro­ba­tion could improve out­comes for hun­dreds of thou­sands of young peo­ple. The video, an info­graph­ic and a report describe how and why sys­tems must reimag­ine pro­ba­tion if they are to ful­fill their poten­tial for improv­ing young lives and pro­mot­ing pub­lic safe­ty. The video illus­trates what can be done by lead­ers and line staff of juve­nile pro­ba­tion agen­cies, as well as judges, pros­e­cu­tors, juve­nile defend­ers, com­mu­ni­ty orga­ni­za­tions and oth­er sys­tem partners.

If you’re look­ing for an online prac­tice guide, browse…

The Desk­top Guide to Good Juve­nile Pro­ba­tion Practice

Pro­duced by the Nation­al Cen­ter for Juve­nile Jus­tice, this prac­tice guide and resource library for juve­nile pro­ba­tion offi­cers, judges and court staff is a search­able, online resource. It cov­ers six themes: racial and eth­nic equi­ty in juve­nile pro­ba­tion prac­tice; diver­sion from the juve­nile court sys­tem for most youth; effec­tive case man­age­ment; effec­tive respons­es that con­tribute to pos­i­tive behav­ior change in young peo­ple; how to lim­it unnec­es­sary deten­tion; and orga­ni­za­tion­al cul­ture and devel­op­ment that pro­motes good juve­nile pro­ba­tion practice.

If your agency is con­sid­er­ing pro­ba­tion trans­for­ma­tion, answer…

25 Ques­tions for Juve­nile Pro­ba­tion Trans­for­ma­tion: Readi­ness Self-Assess­ment Tool for Pro­ba­tion Leaders

This tool from the Casey Foun­da­tion helps juris­dic­tions assess whether they are ready to trans­form prac­tices to pro­mote youth devel­op­ment instead of pulling young peo­ple deep­er into the sys­tem. The tool’s 25-state­ment for­mat is based on the Foundation’s vision for trans­form­ing juve­nile pro­ba­tion, which requires deci­sion mak­ers and oth­er prac­ti­tion­ers to think and act dif­fer­ent­ly to pro­vide oppor­tu­ni­ties for young people.

If you are think­ing about racial jus­tice and pro­ba­tion, read…

A Call to Action: Juve­nile Pro­ba­tion and Racial Justice

This Q&A with Casey’s Steve Bish­op, the senior asso­ciate lead­ing the Foundation’s work on trans­form­ing juve­nile pro­ba­tion, sug­gests how pro­ba­tion lead­ers and line staff could help address sys­temic racism. He says an hon­est account­ing of probation’s role in per­pet­u­at­ing racial dis­par­i­ties is nec­es­sary to advance any long-term efforts at reform. Casey offers con­crete steps that juve­nile pro­ba­tion agen­cies can take to pro­mote racial equi­ty and inclu­sion in this 15-item check­list.

If trans­form­ing pro­ba­tion is a part of your strat­e­gy to reduce youth incar­cer­a­tion, download…

Lead­ing With Race to Reimag­ine Youth Jus­tice: JDAI’s Deep-End Initiative

This Casey Foun­da­tion report explores the Foundation’s deep-end effort, which is help­ing juve­nile jus­tice juris­dic­tions safe­ly and sig­nif­i­cant­ly reduce youth con­fine­ment — espe­cial­ly for young peo­ple of col­or. It high­lights a trou­ble­some prac­tice: the use of cor­rec­tion­al con­fine­ment for youth who have vio­lat­ed the con­di­tions of their pro­ba­tion — but not the law — and argues for elim­i­nat­ing con­fine­ment as a response to pro­ba­tion rule vio­la­tions. The data prove that con­fin­ing kids whole­sale doesn’t work,” says Judge Kim Browne of Franklin Coun­ty, Ohio, a juris­dic­tion pur­su­ing deep-end reform. So the coun­ty is focus­ing less on cook­ie-cut­ter pro­ba­tion rules and rigid com­pli­ance and more on cus­tomized super­vi­sion and fam­i­ly support.”

If your agency wants a road map to involve and sup­port fam­i­lies, consider…

Fam­i­ly Engage­ment in the Juve­nile Jus­tice Sys­tem: Guid­ance Frame­work and Action Planner

Juve­nile jus­tice staff, com­mu­ni­ty part­ners and tech­ni­cal assis­tance providers can use this Casey Foun­da­tion frame­work and action plan­ner to devel­op sus­tain­able fam­i­ly engage­ment efforts that have clear met­rics and reg­u­lar assess­ments of progress. The plan­ner com­bines research with con­crete advice from the field on the mind­sets, con­cepts and prac­tices need­ed to bet­ter engage families.

If your agency is rethink­ing the length of pro­ba­tion terms, read…

Restruc­tur­ing Pro­ba­tion Terms to Pro­mote Success

Pro­ba­tion terms should be only as long as is nec­es­sary to con­nect youth with any need­ed com­mu­ni­ty sup­port and ser­vices and should be designed to min­i­mize dis­rup­tion to young people’s lives and devel­op­ment. This Urban Insti­tute guide out­lines a new way of think­ing about juve­nile pro­ba­tion terms and the process­es for end­ing them, pro­vid­ing research-informed guid­ance to struc­ture terms that pro­mote youth success.

If you want to expand diver­sion from jus­tice involve­ment, download…

Expand the Use of Diver­sion From the Juve­nile Jus­tice System”

This Casey Foun­da­tion brief presents the research case for sig­nif­i­cant­ly expand­ing the use of diver­sion in the juve­nile jus­tice sys­tem. The alter­na­tive — arrest­ing young peo­ple and for­mal­ly pro­cess­ing their cas­es in juve­nile court — increas­es their like­li­hood of sub­se­quent arrests, school strug­gles and employ­ment chal­lenges. For pro­ba­tion to be a focused, effec­tive inter­ven­tion, case­loads need to be small enough to allow offi­cers to build strong rela­tion­ships with young peo­ple who pose sig­nif­i­cant risks for seri­ous offend­ing with­out more guid­ance and sup­port. Learn more about diver­sion in this one-page chart on best prac­tices for effec­tive diver­sion.

Sub­scribe to the Juve­nile Jus­tice News

To stay up to date on Casey resources focused on trans­form­ing juve­nile pro­ba­tion, sub­scribe to the Foun­da­tion’s Juve­nile Jus­tice News, a month­ly enewsletter.

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