On April 15, 2014, OJJDP Administrator Robert L. Listenbee highlighted the importance of evidence-based policies, programs, and practices in juvenile justice reform during a keynote speech at the Blueprints Conference in Denver, CO.
The conference was attended by more than 1,000 child welfare, juvenile justice, education, and mental and behavioral health professionals; researchers and program developers; officials from state and federal agencies that serve youth; and representatives of foundations and community-based programs and advocacy organizations.
The United States incarcerates youth at a higher rate than any other developed country. The majority of these youth are nonviolent offenders. Administrator Listenbee pointed to OJJDP-supported research that shows incarceration does not promote healthy youth development and can often be harmful to youth; and that incarceration does not reduce recidivism but, in fact, can increase it in certain cases. For nonviolent offenders, community-based programs and services have proven more effective at promoting public safety and positive youth outcomes at a fraction of the cost of institutionalizing youth.
Administrator Listenbee described numerous jurisdictions that have used a comprehensive set of strategies to improve their juvenile justice systems, including:
“It's important to use these strategies together,” he said. “For example, the closing of facilities must be accompanied by reinvestment in evidence-based community-based alternatives. We cannot use one strategy and not the others. They must all be working together.”
He cited OJJDP’s and the Office of Justice Programs’ commitment to promoting the use of evidence-based programs through the Evidence Integration Initiative, CrimeSolutions.gov, the Model Programs Guide, and the Diagnostic Center.
In addition, Administrator Listenbee discussed OJJDP’s Juvenile Justice Reform and Reinvestment Initiative, launched in 2010, which is currently being piloted in three sites. The initiative uses the Standardized Program Evaluation Protocol (SPEP) as a roadmap for improvement. Beyond individual programs, SPEP also seeks justice system improvements by more appropriately matching youth risk levels to levels of supervision, and youth needs to high-quality and effective services.
“The goal all of us in this room share is to advance what is best for youth, families, and communities,” he said. “This is not an easy goal, but I believe we can get there if we continue to integrate research and evidence into our practice, expand on the important strides of individuals and jurisdictions, advance our understanding about what works and why, and use a balanced, multidisciplinary, and nuanced strategy in applying evidence.”
Information about the Office of Justice Programs’ Evidence Integration Initiative, CrimeSolutions.gov, and Diagnostic Center; and OJJDP’s Model Programs Guide may be accessed online. To learn more about the Blueprints Conference, visit the conference Web site.