Track V
Tools for the Juvenile Justice Professional

by Joe Thome

Because funding has not increased proportionally with the adoption of stricter requirements for accountability, creative professionals have turned to a broad array of informational tools to enhance their juvenile justice programs and policies. The following topics were discussed at the conference.

Juvenile Justice Data: How To Find and Use It

This workshop began with a description of OJJDP's Easy Access software, a sophisticated data resource for jurisdictions unable to generate adequate information locally. The data base provides planners with an abundant amount of information on juvenile court activities across the Nation, juvenile arrest data, and homicide rates. The information is found in OJJDP's Juvenile Court Statistics series and the FBI's Crime in the United States information series. Users can review these data in a variety of formats.

Policymakers need good information to help them develop and implement effective strategies to deal with issues of concern to the public. The problem today, as one presenter noted, is usually not a lack of information but rather a deluge of materials vying for the policymaker's time and attention. Authors of informative presentations need to highlight salient points and make them quickly and clearly. The Bureau of Justice Statistics' Report to the Nation was a pioneer in providing complex crime data in formats that are easy to comprehend. The positive response to the report demonstrates that greater use of graphics, rather than narratives and tables, makes it easier for the reader to understand and recall critical information.

(Note: Recent OJJDP publications that provide juvenile justice data include Juvenile Offenders and Victims: 1997 Update on Violence (Adobe Acrobat File) (Statistics Summary) by M. Sickmund, H. Snyder, and E. Poe-Yamagata; Juvenile Arrests 1996 (Bulletin) by H. Snyder; Juveniles Under Arrest for Driving Under the Influence (Fact Sheet) by H. Snyder, and The National Juvenile Court Data Archive: Collecting Data Since 1927 (Fact Sheet) by J. Butts. Copies of these publications can be obtained by calling the Juvenile Justice Clearinghouse at 800-638-8736.)

Policy Boards: A Resource for Sound Juvenile Justice Policy and Programming

Policy boards can be defined generally as boards that are established at the local level to ensure that local needs are identified by members of the community. They serve as an effective tool for initiating systemic changes that a State planning agency might not be able to bring about independently.

The discussion first considered what constitutes an effective policy board member. It was said that effective members exhibit the capacity to carry out the following tasks: identify and acquire diverse resources, hold individuals and institutions accountable, assist the community and planning group in overcoming barriers, provide incentives to individuals and institutions participating in the planning process, and exhibit openness to a negotiated and shared vision.

State initiatives should rely on existing boards to the greatest extent possible and avoid creating new boards for each initiative. The State also is obligated to provide training and technical assistance to policy boards to assist them with program and management issues such as policy governance.

Workshop panelists agreed that policy boards should respect the views of community members and include residents' ideas in the planning process; that is, the community should develop project objectives by means of the board. Other lessons learned from effective policy boards include the following:

  • Board members should share accountability and credit for the board's initiatives.

  • Hidden agendas undermine policy board initiatives and cause board members and the public to lose faith in the process. Personal agendas should be out in the open for all to evaluate.

  • Communities should be inspired to consider government as a resource -- not a roadblock.

  • Policy boards should help to develop the community profile.

Building Public Support

In recent years, one presenter told those attending this workshop, increased demands on media resources have made it more difficult for advocates of change to rely on this traditional ally. For example, budget cuts, staff reductions, and time and space constraints on electronic and print media limit access to these resources. Other barriers include incoherent and confusing messages from advocacy organizations, lack of full access to information (which results in incomplete reporting), bureaucratic avoidance of media inquiries, and failure to set priorities. Moreover, much of the information provided to media outlets is not substantiated by independent evaluation (nor is the source held accountable for its accuracy).

In working with the media, the following should be kept in mind:

  • Know the product to be promoted and those in the media who can help.

  • Meet frequently with media representatives to keep them abreast of local projects.

  • Include members of the media on policy and related boards.

  • Be fully prepared. Bring facts, evaluations, and information on trends, and be ready to give the names of sources to ensure credibility.

  • Find ways to help the media see trends and their effects.

  • Do not promise more than you can provide.

  • Inspire human interest by connecting issues with real persons.

  • Avoid negativism.

  • Think broadly about where coverage could be provided. Do not limit your vision to the front page.

Participants heard about the role of communication in gaining public support for juvenile justice from a partner in a firm that is developing public service announcements for the "Investing in Youth for a Safer Future" campaign, funded by OJJDP and the Bureau of Justice Assistance. The goal of the campaign is to motivate adults to invest in youth crime prevention and intervention in their communities.

(Note: This campaign is in accord with the eighth key objective in the Coordinating Council on Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention's Combating Violence and Delinquency: The National Juvenile Justice Action Plan. Objective 8 is to "implement an aggressive public outreach campaign on effective strategies to combat juvenile violence.")

Confidentiality of Juvenile Records: A Thing of the Past?

All those interested in juvenile justice reform must consider the importance of an information-sharing system as a core component of an effective juvenile justice system. It may seem obvious that responding to the needs of juveniles requires accurate, timely information. However, as a panelist pointed out, nearly every serious reformer has had to acknowledge the difficulty of establishing such an information-sharing system. Today, State juvenile record laws are changing to reflect the perceived needs of the various State and local systems. Most of the reform focuses on information flow: policymakers seek to end the isolation of agencies with a common mission and interest in juveniles.

Workshop participants were told of new confidentiality models that are emerging in juvenile justice. One involves redefining the juvenile justice system to include public and private agencies that play a role in juvenile needs assessment and service delivery. Interagency agreements are being used to ease the flow of information across such agency boundaries. In some instances, the judiciary has been empowered to facilitate information exchange.

Some States have elected not to broaden the authority for information sharing. Others are moving toward information sharing in a deliberative manner, carefully reviewing the implications before undertaking major initiatives. At least 38 States have code provisions that allow interagency sharing of justice-related data. Educators are particularly interested in juvenile court records, believing that the information in these records could enhance safety in schools attended by juvenile offenders.

This panel concluded by reminding attendees that the traditional rationale for preserving the privacy of juvenile records is based on a fundamental premise of the juvenile court system -- that stigmatizing youth through public exposure of their transgressions impedes their rehabilitation. Broader information sharing is, however, increasingly proving to be the norm. Parents now have greater access to the types of information being used to prescribe treatment for their children; the public is also accessing this case management information in a growing number of States.

(Note: Since the national conference was held, OJJDP and the Family Policy Compliance Office, U.S. Department of Education, have published Sharing Information: A Guide to the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act and Participation in Juvenile Justice Programs. This document is a valuable guide for educators and other youth-serving professionals who need clear direction on how to share school records information while complying with the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act. Copies of the Guide can be obtained by calling the Juvenile Justice Clearinghouse at 800-638-8736.)

Research and Evaluation: Imperatives in the 21st Century

To accomplish cost-effective multisite program evaluations, evaluators must select outcomes to measure with considerable care and use existing resources and available data to the greatest extent practical. In developing outcome measures, one panel member suggested that program evaluators should do the following:

  • Develop a program logic model -- a "picture" that clearly specifies the relationships among the identified problem, program activities, and intended outcomes.

  • Identify the factors that are most significant to policymakers and decisionmakers, that will yield broad support, and that will facilitate the planning process.

  • Focus on accomplishments that can be feasibly measured in the initial year and determine how to expand the evaluative process in the future.

One speaker offered answers to two frequently asked questions: Why are evaluations often not very useful? How can evaluations be made more effective? The lack of usefulness was attributed to inappropriate design, including the failure to plan on integrating the information back into the decisionmaking process. Evaluations can be improved by using a community-oriented focus, issue-oriented strategic planning, and good performance indicators. The speaker also recommended the development of partnerships with local universities.

Tools to help practitioners and policymakers undertake evaluations were discussed. It was noted that several excellent guides are available, including OJJDP's Title V Community Self-Evaluation Workbook and the Center for Substance Abuse Prevention's Measurements in Prevention: A Manual on Selecting and Using Instruments to Evaluate Prevention Programs.

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