Turning JDAI’s Focus to the Deep End of the Juvenile Justice System

Posted June 2, 2014
By the Annie E. Casey Foundation
Blog Turning JDA Is Focustothe Deep End 2014

In the nine years since the city of St. Louis embraced deten­tion reform, the pop­u­la­tion in its juve­nile deten­tion facil­i­ty has plum­met­ed, and the con­tin­u­um of deten­tion alter­na­tive pro­grams has swelled. A new ethos has enveloped all cor­ners of the city’s juve­nile sys­tem ded­i­cat­ed to reduc­ing the deten­tion pop­u­la­tion as much as pos­si­ble con­sis­tent with pub­lic safety.

But how are St. Louis youth far­ing at lat­er stages of the juve­nile court process? And how well is the city doing in min­i­miz­ing the use of cor­rec­tion­al com­mit­ments and oth­er res­i­den­tial place­ments for youth who do not pose a sig­nif­i­cant threat to pub­lic safety?

Begin­ning in late 2012, St. Louis lead­ers set out to dig deep and find out, join­ing the first cohort of sites in the Casey Foundation’s new effort to broad­en the focus of JDAI to the dis­po­si­tion­al (or deep”) end of juve­nile jus­tice. St. Louis and the oth­er five pilot sites — Bernalil­lo Coun­ty (New Mex­i­co), Jef­fer­son Parish (Louisiana), Lucas Coun­ty (Ohio), Mar­i­on Coun­ty (Indi­ana) and Washoe Coun­ty (Neva­da) — spent all of 2013 mobi­liz­ing deep end study groups and con­duct­ing an exten­sive quan­ti­ta­tive and qual­i­ta­tive assess­ment to bet­ter under­stand local dis­po­si­tion­al trends and to iden­ti­fy oppor­tu­ni­ties for safe­ly reduc­ing placements.

The ulti­mate impact of their efforts will not be known for some time — the sites are just now devel­op­ing their action plans. But the assess­ment process revealed a num­ber of impor­tant lessons.

First, all six sites found that many youth who pose min­i­mal risks to pub­lic safe­ty are nonethe­less being removed from their homes and placed into cor­rec­tion­al insti­tu­tions or oth­er res­i­den­tial facil­i­ties. Thanks in part to their work in JDAI, all six sites had already reduced com­mit­ments sig­nif­i­cant­ly before launch­ing their deep end efforts. How­ev­er, the assess­ment process made clear that many oppor­tu­ni­ties remain to safe­ly reduce res­i­den­tial con­fine­ment below cur­rent levels.

Sec­ond, all of the par­tic­i­pat­ing sites have found that unnec­es­sary place­ments are occur­ring both at ini­tial dis­po­si­tion and through vio­la­tions of pro­ba­tion. Every site iden­ti­fied room for improve­ment in the use of risk assess­ments to deter­mine ini­tial dis­po­si­tions, and every site found that a sub­stan­tial share of place­ments — at least 30 per­cent — stemmed from pro­ba­tion vio­la­tions rather than new offenses.

Third, the sites’ efforts to reduce deep end place­ments rely on many of the same tools and val­ues used in JDAI — includ­ing col­lab­o­ra­tion, data analy­sis, objec­tive deci­sion mak­ing and an inten­tion­al focus on racial/​ethnic equi­ty — but it is more com­plex. Com­pared with deten­tion reform, sites are find­ing that reduc­ing dis­po­si­tion­al place­ments requires more elab­o­rate and sophis­ti­cat­ed data analy­ses, a top-to-bot­tom review of risk and needs assess­ment pro­ce­dures, far greater atten­tion to front­line pro­ba­tion prac­tice and more inten­sive efforts to engage and sup­port families.

Despite the chal­lenges, sites are mak­ing progress and build­ing momentum.

It’s been a lot of work. Your brain is con­stant­ly work­ing,” reports Cathy Hore­jes, Chief Deputy Juve­nile Offi­cer in the St. Louis City pro­ba­tion depart­ment. But it’s just a nat­ur­al flow,” Hore­jes says. Once you’ve improved the front end of your sys­tem [through JDAI], I think you need to crit­i­cal­ly look at the back end. You need to ensure that you’re not just look­ing at the data, but that you’re tak­ing the next step and doing some­thing with the data. That’s what the deep end focus has done for us.”

• • •

By Decem­ber 2013, when teams from the six deep end sites con­vened for an inter-site work­shop, all had com­plet­ed their assess­ments, boiled down the results into Pow­er­Point pre­sen­ta­tions and shared the find­ings with their local collaboratives.

In St. Louis, the data revealed that half of all place­ments stemmed from mis­de­meanors or pro­ba­tion vio­la­tions. Just 13 per­cent of the place­ments were for vio­lent felony offens­es. Indeed, the data showed that St. Louis youth had a greater like­li­hood of out-of-home place­ment for a pro­ba­tion vio­la­tion than a vio­lent felony.

Equal­ly pow­er­ful, says Cathy Hore­jes, have been the insights gleaned from sur­veys and inter­views with youth, fam­i­lies, pub­lic defend­ers, ser­vice providers, pro­ba­tion staff and oth­ers. Many state­ments were pos­i­tive, but oth­ers were crit­i­cal, and they made a pow­er­ful impres­sion on her staff of 35 pro­ba­tion offi­cers. To hear what came out of people’s mouths was like, wow,’” Hore­jes says. Those were learn­ing moments.”

In Lucas Coun­ty, Ohio, the deep end data analy­sis revealed two eye-open­ing trends. First, while the over­all num­ber of com­mit­ments and res­i­den­tial place­ments has fall­en in recent years, the decline has lagged an even larg­er drop in arrests and refer­rals. In fact, for youth who are arrest­ed, the odds of being placed in a res­i­den­tial facil­i­ty have grown by more than half since 2008.

When we saw that the com­mit­ments were ris­ing in rela­tion to arrests and refer­rals, it was a big wow,” reports Rachael Gard­ner, the local deep end coor­di­na­tor. It pro­vid­ed a dif­fer­ent frame.”

The Lucas Coun­ty assess­ment also revealed a strik­ing racial dis­par­i­ty in place­ments. Where­as the pro­por­tion of African-Amer­i­can youth holds rough­ly steady (about 60 per­cent) at most deci­sion points — includ­ing arrests, deten­tion admis­sions, peti­tions, adju­di­ca­tions and pro­ba­tion place­ments — 92 per­cent of youth sent to res­i­den­tial treat­ment cen­ters and 94 per­cent of youth sent to state train­ing schools are African American.

We didn’t expect that our sys­tem wouldn’t have dis­pro­por­tion­al­i­ty and dis­par­i­ty,” says Gard­ner, but see­ing that jump at the point of out-of-home place­ment, that was surprising.”

• • •

In ear­ly 2014, the pilot deep end juris­dic­tions are devis­ing action plans and tak­ing ini­tial steps to address the issues they have iden­ti­fied. Review­ing risk and needs assess­ments is a focus for all sites — both the design of the tools, and the way they are used to inform the deci­sion-mak­ing process.

In St. Louis, local lead­ers are reex­am­in­ing their risk assess­ment tool. Until now, Hore­jes explains, staff have seen the tools as a task to com­plete, not some­thing to help them in real deci­sion making.”

To lim­it place­ments stem­ming from pro­ba­tion vio­la­tions, St. Louis has begun requir­ing pro­ba­tion offi­cers to con­vene a meet­ing with the youth, fam­i­ly, pro­ba­tion lead­ers and oth­er part­ners before fil­ing a pro­ba­tion vio­la­tion. In May 2014, Hore­jes hired a for­mer child pro­tec­tion work­er to train pro­ba­tion staff on how to con­duct these team deci­sion-mak­ing meet­ings effectively.

St. Louis is already show­ing a dra­mat­ic drop in place­ments. Just 54 city youth were com­mit­ted to state cus­tody in 2013, down from 91 in 2012 (and more than 100 each year from 2008 to 2011). Hore­jes attrib­ut­es most of the decline to the arrival of a new pre­sid­ing juve­nile court judge, David Mason, a cham­pi­on of deep end reform. In addi­tion, Hore­jes says, through train­ing ses­sions on fam­i­ly involve­ment and through their involve­ment in the assess­ment process, the deep end efforts are begin­ning to influ­ence how pro­ba­tion staff work with court involved youth.

In Lucas Coun­ty, local lead­ers are work­ing with the Nation­al Coun­cil on Crime and Delin­quen­cy to design a new dis­po­si­tion­al matrix to guide ini­tial place­ment deci­sions. In addi­tion, Lucas Coun­ty has opened a new day treat­ment pro­gram for pro­ba­tion youth exhibit­ing con­tin­u­ing con­duct prob­lems who might oth­er­wise be placed in a res­i­den­tial facility.

The work is fan­tas­tic,” says Gard­ner. It real­ly lifts up what’s next for your juris­dic­tion, and it’s led to some real­ly impor­tant con­ver­sa­tions.” Asked what advice she would offer to oth­er JDAI juris­dic­tions con­sid­er­ing whether to apply and become a deep end site, Gard­ner responds: Come on. Jump in with us. Jump into the deep end, because it’s total­ly worth it.”

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