The Center for State Governments Justice Center, along with the National Reentry Resource Center (NRRC), will partner with Tennessee’s Department of Children’s Services (DCS) Juvenile Justice Division, and four other states, to implement recommendations unveiled at a press conference in Washington, D.C. on Monday.
State Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris, chairman of the CSG, said, “Like many other states, Tennessee recognizes there is room to improve our understanding of how youth respond to their interaction with the juvenile justice system.
“This project is a significant opportunity for us to improve the way we are tracking these youth, and for all of the testing states to create model juvenile justice systems for others to emulate.”
“We are deeply appreciative of this effort that will help us to improve our methods for collecting and analyzing our recidivism data," said Monica Middlebrooks, DCS Deputy Commissioner for Juvenile Justice. “In Tennessee, we are committed to doing everything we can to get our youth back on track for success.”
Tennessee will be joined by the states of Utah, Pennsylvania, Nebraska and Kansas to test the recommendations set forth in two studies also released today which detail what state and local governments can do to improve outcomes for youth who come into contact with the juvenile justice system.
The first, “Measuring and Using Juvenile Recidivism Data to Inform Policy, Practice, and Resource Allocation,” surveyed all 50 states’ juvenile correctional agencies and found 20 percent of those agencies do not track the rates of youth reoffending. Of the 39 states that do track recidivism data, most consider only one type of contact with the justice system, stopping short of determining, for example, whether the youth was later incarcerated in the adult system.
The second, “Core Principles for Reducing Recidivism and Improving Other Outcomes for Youth in the Juvenile Justice System,” offers guiding principles and recommendations based on what has been proven to work. Those recommendations, which range from engaging family in decisions regarding a child to stripping the system of tactics like curfew laws and “scared straight” programs, are also offered with concrete examples of states that have succeeded by employing these strategies.
“A fairly good axiom in government is what doesn’t get measured doesn’t get done,” said Vermont State Sen. Richard Sears, who serves on CSG Justice Center Board and chairs his state’s Senate Judiciary Committee. “I’m proud of our efforts to keep youth out of detention facilities, but that, in and of itself, isn’t success. Legislators want user-friendly data explaining how our youth respond to their supervision and various types of treatment program, so that we might learn more and ultimately improve how we supervise and support them.”
There has been significant progress in juvenile justice reform, with youth confinement rates cut in half from 1997 to 2011 and juvenile arrest rates at their lowest level in more than 30 years. But as lower-risk youth have successfully been redirected from incarceration, progress is still needed to track, and ultimately improve, the outcomes of those higher-risk youth and others previously under supervision.
“Through our Models for Change initiative, we have seen states and counties across the country improve their juvenile justice systems over the past 15 years through meaningful reforms, but there is much work left to be done,” said Laurie Garduque, director for Justice Reform at the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. “These publications push the field to accelerate progress toward more effective, fair, and developmentally appropriate policies and practices that will increase the future life chances of these youth to succeed.”
“What’s valuable about this white paper is that it distills a great deal of dense information from journal articles into actionable recommendations,” said Edward Mulvey, director of the Law and Psychiatry Program at the University of Pittsburgh Medical School and principal investigator on the Pathways to Desistance study, an investigation of the paths that youth with serious offenses take upon leaving the juvenile justice system.
“We can talk about the programs, services and treatment we provide, but good intentions alone won’t reduce the likelihood of re-offending,” said Susan Burke, director of Utah’s Division of Juvenile Justice Services. “This white paper released today summarizes, in one comprehensive document, the new lens in which we should be viewing each state system. I, for one, am eager to get started.”