The Importance of Infrastructure and Accountability

Based on its review of the literature, the Study Group concluded that the necessary infrastructure for prevention and accountability for its effectiveness is lacking in most American communities. An analysis of SVJ offender careers and the organization of existing social services agencies revealed significant challenges to formulating effective prevention strategies:

Bullet According to self-reports, many SVJ offenders are never arrested, and the majority of violent youth have only one officially recorded violent crime as a juvenile.
Bullet Juvenile courts do not routinely deal with young offenders below the age of 12 because these youth are either not detected or not referred to court through the police, the child welfare system, or other referral sources.
Bullet Potential SVJ offenders are often not identified as such at their first appearance before the juvenile court because their first arrest is typically for a less serious offense.

Very young offenders -- particularly those who have committed a serious offense -- are the most likely to be identified later as SVJ offenders. Currently, youth who exhibit these early behaviors and risk factors associated with SVJ offending are not systematically identified for early intervention, and there are no mechanisms for routine screening and referral of children and youth with serious behavioral problems. Furthermore, the underpinnings of public accountability, including basic information systems for monitoring the delivery and effectiveness of intervention services, do not exist.

The roles and functions of the juvenile justice system, mental health system, and child welfare services in the prevention of SVJ offending are often undefined or unclear and sometimes overlap. Since each agency typically is reactive rather than proactive, none has a mandate for preventing SVJ offending in the community. Thus, the prevention resources and services that exist are often fragmented and/or underutilized. Integration of services is often lacking, and there are no firm guidelines for identifying those who should receive intervention and/or sanctions.

The challenge to American communities is to either assign the responsibility for prevention education, screening, and early intervention to an existing agency or coalition of agencies or establish a new entity for this purpose. Although the Study Group did not recommend a specific forum or organizational structure for these functions, there was a strong consensus that adequate resources and specific mandates must be given to a public entity to focus on the prevention of SVJ offending, the coordination and integration of services, and accountability for success.

Serious and Violent Juvenile Offenders Juvenile Justice Bulletin   ·  May 1998