Track IV
Intervention and Juvenile Justice System Responses

by Barry Krisberg, Ph.D.

A number of innovative intervention programs in juvenile justice, including two of OJJDP's newest -- Community Assessment Centers (CAC's) and the Graduated Sanctions component of the Comprehensive Strategy for Serious, Violent, and Chronic Juvenile Offenders -- were featured at OJJDP's national conference. There also were presentations on promising developments to reduce the disproportionate representation of minority juveniles in secure confinement, research on the nexus of drugs and gangs and improved methods of intervening with drug-involved youth, and more effective methods of responding to the mental health needs of juvenile offenders.

Community Assessment Centers: Problem or Solution?

One presentation featured the latest information on CAC's, which OJJDP will field test in several communities. Participants heard a report on site visits to seven CAC's and in depth discussions of some existing assessment centers.

Existing CAC's are designed to enhance law enforcement options for the early handling of delinquents, in contrast to the broader OJJDP CAC concept, which places priority on early intervention and prevention with at-risk and delinquent youth. These existing CAC's usually involve multiple agencies that co-locate their services at a single site. CAC's screen youth with needs assessment tools, develop initial case plans, and make referrals for appropriate services. Site visits suggest that assessment centers take at least 1 year to implement and should be tailored to meet local needs. CAC's strive to accomplish multiple goals, including saving police time, increasing use of treatment resources, and increasing interagency collaboration. Conference presenters emphasized the need to conduct well-structured intake interviews and capture data in management information systems. Early results suggest that CAC's are effective in reducing processing time and that they have gained considerable support among a broad array of community agencies concerned with the needs of troubled youth.

Concerns expressed regarding CAC's include the need to ensure that youth participate in the program voluntarily, to safeguard the confidentiality of screening information, and to provide adequate counsel to protect the constitutional rights of juveniles. Screening instruments should identify the least restrictive intervention option, and participating agencies should monitor the potential for widening the net.

Graduated Sanctions

Conference participants were briefed on OJJDP's Comprehensive Strategy, an innovative and logical approach to prevent juvenile delinquency and protect the public from serious and violent juvenile offenders. The Comprehensive Strategy is grounded in three main components: delinquency prevention, early intervention, and graduated sanctions.

The premise of graduated sanctions involves applying sanctions to an individual and increasing those sanctions if the youth fails to comply with stipulations or laws. A system of graduated sanctions is rooted in the use of research-tested risk and needs assessment tools and a plan for allocating available sanction options based on multiple factors, including the severity of the current offense and the risk of future misconduct. Conference participants were given illustrations of how several jurisdictions used these assessment tools to evaluate existing juvenile justice options, determine needed improvements, and plan and implement them.

To improve their juvenile justice systems, communities need a model system of sanctions, beginning with immediate responses to minor delinquent acts, progressing to intermediate sanctions for more serious juvenile court cases, and moving on to secure care for the most serious or violent offenders. A model system of graduated sanctions combines treatment and rehabilitation with reasonable, fair, humane, and appropriate sanctions and offers a continuum of care consisting of diverse programs.

The Director of Alternative Sanctions of Connecticut's Judicial Branch described the implementation of a system of graduated sanctions in the State. Connecticut used risk and needs assessment tools to construct a detailed profile of youth handled by its court system. Funds were awarded to create a statewide network of community-based alternative programs. Implementation of these new programs expanded bed space in existing secure facilities for more serious juvenile offenders. Connecticut is reaping significant cost savings and has drastically reduced institutional crowding. Longitudinal research on youth assigned to the alternative programs suggests that the rearrest rates of youth who participated in alternative programs were lower than for those released from Department of Corrections facilities.

Incarceration: The Disproportionate Choice for Children of Color?

The purpose of this workshop was to provide strategies to help communities reduce disproportionate minority confinement (DMC) in the juvenile justice system. The workshop discussed approaches that have been effective in various locations and also reviewed State progress in addressing DMC.

One State's experience in dealing with DMC was described. In Florida, the State Department of Juvenile Justice is confronting this problem vigorously, using a holistic approach that involves local communities and various agencies and organizations in a coordinated effort. Florida was one of five pilot States that received OJJDP funding to address DMC. The grant featured a two-stage approach that mirrored the phases set out in the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act of 1974, as amended. Phase I involved research into the problem and culminated in a report documenting the extent of overrepresentation found at each point in the system. Phase II focused on developing and implementing a pilot intervention project, designing the evaluation component, and continuing research on overrepresentation statewide. Phase II funds supported the Hillsborough County Minority Overrepresentation Pilot Project, the goal of which was to develop and document an effective strategy for reducing DMC within the juvenile justice system. Overall, evaluators found that the pilot project achieved some of its goals. Relatively more cases were handled nonjudicially, and the number of juveniles who penetrated deep into the juvenile justice system was mitigated. Other important achievements were the commitment and participation of the community and the various juvenile justice agencies. Florida is considering the possibility of initiating this project in several other districts with high levels of disproportionate minority overrepresentation.

The discussion of the issue of overrepresentation of minority youth in the juvenile justice system touched on concerns of many minorities, including African-Americans, Native Americans, and Hispanics. Whatever the group, there was broad consensus on the need to involve the family in order to effectively work with at-risk minority children. The importance of including cultural components in programs directed toward young offenders was also stressed.

Identifying and Intervening With Drug-Involved Youth

Because many State and local courts are being inundated with drug defendants, there has been a continuing search for more effective ways to provide treatment to offenders, while at the same time responding to the community's request for safety. In a time of limited resources, budget constraints, and increasing caseloads, many juvenile justice agencies have had to become very innovative in their approach to meeting the needs of this special population.

The workshop focused on using the coercive power of the court in conjunction with staff who have specialized training in the treatment of alcohol and other drug abuse to effectively meet the needs of the drug-involved juvenile offender and also provide surveillance and community protection. Collaboration between the courts and treatment providers is not new to either the juvenile justice system or the treatment field, but a variety of modalities are being implemented in the juvenile justice system. The workshop examined three modalities: juvenile drug courts, day treatment in an alternative school setting, and treatment for youth in correctional institutions. The presenters' discussions focused on program implementation, treatment modality, and evaluation.

Gangs and Guns: Prevention and Intervention

Presenters offered a number of promising approaches to reduce gang behavior, including the Boys & Girls Clubs of America's Gang Prevention Through Targeted Outreach Program, the Spergel model of gang intervention and suppression (as illustrated by a description of the Chicago Police Department's Little Village Gang Violence Reduction Project), and mediation and conflict resolution for gang-involved youth. The need for collaborative, multiagency approaches was stressed -- in particular, the need to integrate prevention, treatment, and suppression.

The Boys & Girls Clubs Targeted Outreach Program With a Gang Prevention and Intervention Component is designed to enable local clubs to prevent youth from entering gangs, intervene with gang members early on, and divert youth from gang activities into constructive activities and programs. This fiscal year, in addition to providing training and technical assistance to local clubs, the Boys & Girls Clubs of America will initiative a national evaluation of the Targeted Outreach program. Once the program has been evaluated, OJJDP will disseminate the findings to the field.

The Spergel model of gang intervention and suppression, developed with OJJDP funding support, is a model that builds on existing prevention efforts by offering a focused and data-driven intervention and suppression strategy. This strategy is composed of five core strategies that are delivered with the support of an integrated core project team of police, street workers, probation officers, and others. The strategies are (1) community mobilization, (2) social intervention (including outreach), (3) opportunities provision, (4) suppression and accountability, and (5) organizational change and development, including multidisciplinary teams.

This model was implemented in the Little Village neighborhood in Chicago from 1992 to 1997 and was evaluated throughout its implementation. In the early 1990's, the Little Village neighborhood was a hotspot for gang violence in Chicago, a traditional gang problem city. From 1987 to 1994, 96 percent of gang homicides in Chicago involved a gun. The evaluation of the 5-year Little Village project demonstrated that the program has had a positive effect on gang violence and on the community's perception of the gang problem and the police response to gangs.

This workshop also discussed the work of the New Mexico Center for Dispute Resolution in mediation and conflict resolution for gang-involved youth. The mediation process in schools includes (1) reviewing roles and rules and getting an agreement to mediate, (2) defining the issues among the disputants, (3) allowing the disputants to understand opposite points of view, (4) generating ideas to find a solution, and (5) writing a final agreement that defines how terms will be carried out. Through discussion and handouts, the workshop provided valuable information on mediation and conflict resolution in schools, noting that gang members who are not in school play a larger role in perpetuation of gang culture than youth who are successful at staying in school. Also discussed were multiparty gang disputes and the multiparty mediation process, an emerging area in conflict mediation.

Programming To Better Serve the Mental Health Needs of Juvenile Offenders

The mental health needs of juvenile offenders were also addressed. Conference presentations covered the prevalence of mental health disorders in the juvenile court population and issues in the treatment of juvenile sex offenders. Presenters noted the general lack of mental health treatment resources in most communities. Increased public awareness about the need for such resources is essential.

Therapy outcomes improve with early and holistic diagnosis and treatment. There is an urgent need for community-based transitional programs for those completing institutional programs. Parental involvement is seen as a critical ingredient in successful treatment.

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