Exemplary Programs

This section provides examples of programs that have incorporated one or more of the key elements described above and whose formal evaluations attest to their effectiveness (e.g., cost savings, successfully negotiated restitution agreements, increased restitution collection, improved school attendance and performance, and increased client satisfaction). These programs represent a variety of approaches, from diversion to intensive supervision, illustrating how accountability can be built into a graduated continuum of services and how it involves collaboration with other system components, the community, and private organizations. These are by no means the only programs that work; however, their sound theoretical bases and evaluations set them apart from their many counterparts. Contact information for these programs is provided later in this Bulletin, under "For Further Information."

Diversion Programs

Although the public may perceive juvenile delinquents as chronic offenders who enter and reenter the system, statistics show that this is not the case. A 1988 study of the court careers of juvenile offenders in Arizona and Utah found that 71 percent of females and 54 percent of males who had contact with the juvenile court had only one referral (Snyder, 1988). Moreover, researchers have discovered that a small proportion of youth commit the majority of crimes (Wolfgang, Figlio, and Sellin, 1972).

Diversion to community-based services is and should remain a viable and desired alternative to court. Effective diversion programs hold offenders accountable for the offenses committed, take steps to repair the damage caused by their actions, and provide swift and certain consequences.

The Thurston County, WA, Prosecuting Attorney's Office implemented a "fast track" diversion program in 1995. This program diverts first and second-time offenders charged with misdemeanors or gross misdemeanors to a Community Accountability Board (CAB). To be eligible for the program, offenders must be between the ages of 8 and 17 and must admit to the charges (Community Youth Services, 1998). Also, the Deputy Prosecuting Attorney has the discretion to decide whether to divert youth charged with more serious offenses.

A hearing is held within 12 days before a CAB composed of at least three volunteers who are experienced in dealing with youth and interested in the community. The CAB meets with the youth and his or her parent(s) or guardian(s) for approximately 1 hour to discuss the diversion process, the reasons the offender committed the offense, and the impact of the offense. The CAB then formulates a diversion agreement that may include community service, restitution to the victim, or counseling. A juvenile diversion case manager monitors the juvenile's completion of the agreement (Community Youth Services, 1998).

To determine the effectiveness of this program, the Washington State Institute for Public Policy examined the reoffending rates of youth before and after being placed on diversion. In particular, it compared the rate at which youth reoffended 6 months before the program with the rate at which they reoffended 6 months after the program was implemented. Preliminary analysis indicates that 24.7 percent of the "before" group reoffended with either a felony or misdemeanor while 19.1 percent reoffended "after" participating in the diversion program (Washington State Institute for Public Policy, 1997). In addition to reducing recidivism, the diversion program is estimated to save Washington taxpayers about $2,775 of future justice system costs per participant, and it costs taxpayers only about $140 per youth (Washington State Institute for Public Policy, 1997).

Mediation and Restitution Programs

It is imperative that all juvenile offenders, regardless of the seriousness of their offenses, leave the system understanding that actions have consequences and that they are responsible for their own actions. No single program can achieve this result for every offender, but there are processes and program components that emphasize personal responsibility for the harm inflicted by delinquent acts. Incorporating these components into court dispositions and probation decisions will require sensitivity to the wishes of victims and the community, the offender's mental and emotional capacities, and the extent of harm inflicted.

In 1990, the Travis County, TX, Juvenile Probation Department and the Travis County Dispute Resolution Center established a Victim Offender Mediation program in Austin, TX. The Travis County Juvenile Probation Department operates according to the "balanced approach" (Maloney, Romig, and Armstrong, 1988) philosophy that requires the system to pay equal attention to the needs of the offender, the victim, and the community. The Victim Offender Mediation program was designed to stress the offender's personal accountability to the victim.

The juvenile court refers offenders to the program. Cases eligible for referral include property offenses, misdemeanor assaults, and in some instances, when the victim is a family member, cases are scheduled for prerelease detention hearings. Participation is voluntary for both the offender and the victim.

Once both parties agree to participate in the program, a mediation session is scheduled and the probation officer and victim service officer brief the mediator. The mediator may be a trained volunteer from the Dispute Resolution Center or 1 of 10 staff mediators trained through the Center. During the first part of the meeting, the victim can express his or her feelings directly to the person responsible for inflicting the harm, and the offender can explain his or her actions and motives. The second phase of the meeting involves reviewing the victim's losses and developing a plan for repaying/restoring the victim, to the greatest extent possible.

This program was one of four evaluated by Umbreit during 1990 and 1991 (Umbreit, Coates, and Kalanj, 1994). The evaluation found that 29 percent of all referrals in 1991 (246 of 853) resulted in successful mediation agreements (Umbreit, Coates, and Kalanj, 1994). In many of the cases, the victim requested that the mediation not be held because the situation was already resolved or because he or she was too angry and hurt. Recent statistics show that the successful mediation rate has risen to approximately 77 percent (Travis County Dispute Resolution Center, personal communication, 1999).

The evaluation also found that 98 percent of those cases mediated in 1991 resulted in successfully negotiated restitution agreements. Fifty-three percent involved financial restitution, 40 percent involved community service, and 7 percent involved personal service restitution. The evaluation also revealed that 85 percent of victims and 92 percent of participating offenders reported satisfaction with the mediation process and its outcomes (Umbreit, Coates, and Kalanj, 1994).

It should be noted that this particular program does not include premediation sessions between either the mediator and the offender or the mediator and the victim. Although the strategy used by this program is typical of neighborhood-based mediation, the evaluator recommends that victim offender mediation programs incorporate premediation sessions. These sessions allow clients to develop a rapport with the mediator and ensure that mediation can be performed without inflicting further harm on the victim.

The Utah Juvenile Court operates a juvenile restitution program that holds offenders accountable while making restoration for some of the harm done to both the victim and community. Offenders traditionally pay restitution money directly to their victims. However, some offenders were unable to pay because of family circumstances, age, or inability to find employment. In response, the court created a restitution workfund in 1979 that allows juveniles to earn money by participating in community service projects. Victims then receive restitution payments directly from the fund (Butts and Snyder, 1992).

Under the program, communities can arrange service projects that match their individual needs to projects sponsored by both the public and private sectors. For example, youth have earned restitution money by cleaning buses for a private company in Utah County, while other communities have had juveniles remove graffiti, clean up parks, work in libraries, or complete small construction projects (Administrative Office of the Courts, 1993).

The National Center for Juvenile Justice reviewed data from the National Juvenile Court Data Archive to examine recidivism in informal and formal robbery, assault, burglary, theft, auto theft, and vandalism cases in Utah (Butts and Snyder, 1992). For the offenders in nondismissed, informally handled cases in which the offenders agreed to restitution, the recidivism rate was 11 percent, compared with 18 percent for juveniles who received other dispositions. For formal probation cases, 32 percent of the probationers ordered to pay restitution recidivated, compared with 38 percent of those not paying restitution (Butts and Snyder, 1992).

Specialized Probation Supervision Programs

When the court determines that a juvenile offender may remain in the community, the most frequently ordered disposition is probation supervision. Unfortunately, probation becomes meaningless when juveniles are assigned to overburdened probation officers who at best can have brief and infrequent contacts with them in sterile office settings. However, probation supervision that remains true to its theoretical purpose and incorporates critical elements such as small caseloads, opportunistic supervision, and community involvement can effectively hold youth accountable for their behavior.

School-based probation

School-based probation is a supervision model in which the juvenile probation officer works directly in the school rather than the traditional courthouse environment. This model allows the probation officer to contact clients more frequently, observe client interactions with peers and behavior in a social setting, and actively enforce conditions of probation such as school attendance.

The Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency and the Pennsylvania Juvenile Court Judges' Commission have provided funding support for school-based probation programs in 50 of Pennsylvania's 67 counties. Through the work of some 150 school-based probation officers, the program has served more than 16,000 juveniles (Griffin, 1999).

One primary difference among school-based probation programs occurs in the case management approach. In the single case-management approach, the school-based probation officer is responsible for all aspects of a juvenile's case, including intake and court appearances. In the dual case-management approach, the school-based probation officer is responsible only for youth supervision and related paperwork, and other probation personnel handle the remaining administrative duties.

A recent evaluation of Pennsylvania's school-based initiative found that school-based probation officers had an average caseload of 27 clients (the range was from 6 to 78) and spent a median of 70 percent of their time (ranging from 25 to 95 percent) in the school. The study also found a significant positive association between the amount of time spent in the school and the amount of direct case contact. The case management approach directly affected the amount of time spent in the school, with an average of 66 percent for officers working in a single case-management model and 81 percent for those in a dual case-management model (Metzger, 1997).

This study concluded that the average school-based probation client was similar in demographic and offense characteristics to regular probation clients; however, youth placed on school-based probation spent significantly more time in the community without charges and/or placements. When charges were filed, they were more likely to be status offenses and probation violations (an outcome consistent with increased supervision) rather than serious crimes. Placement cost savings per school-based probation client were projected at $6,665 (Metzger, 1997).

Orange County's Early Intervention Program

In Orange County, CA, the Juvenile Systems Task Force developed the 8% Early Intervention Program to target young, high-risk juvenile offenders and their families. This small percentage of chronic offenders had been found to account for more than half of all juvenile arrests in Orange County. These chronic juvenile offenders can easily be identified because they are usually age 15 or younger at the time of their first system referral and have at least two of the following characteristics: poor school behavior or performance problems, family problems, substance abuse problems, and delinquency patterns (Kurz and Moore, 1994).

The 8% Program employs experienced probation officers, with caseloads of no more than 15 clients, to work intensively with young offenders and their families. First, staff try to control the offender's behavior, ensure that he or she complies with the probation terms and conditions, and stabilize the youth's home environment through counseling, parent aides, and respite care. Then, the probation officer helps the youth develop the necessary skills to avoid a life of crime and trains parents on how to supervise and support their children (Orange County Probation Department, 1998).

The Probation Community Action Association helps the Orange County Probation Department's intervention efforts. Volunteer members of the association mentor young people, raise money, and develop jobs and literacy programs for teenagers.

The Probation Department has compared the case outcomes of offenders in the program with the outcomes of offenders in the study that originally identified the characteristics of the "8%" of chronic offenders. Only 49 percent of the field test early intervention group had subsequent petitions filed, compared with 93 percent of the original study group. Forty-three percent of the early intervention group were subsequently committed versus 86 percent of the original 8% study group (Orange County Probation Department, 1998).

Operation Night Light

Boston, MA, has gained recognition for its success in reducing youth violence. Boston's approach is a comprehensive strategy of prevention, intervention, and enforcement that involves both the public and private sectors (U.S. Department of Justice, 1996). Important components of these community-based initiatives are research, community policing, aggressive prosecution of gun and gang-related crimes, and interagency cooperation and coordination (Clark, 1997).

Operation Night Light exemplifies interagency coordination. It is a cooperative, enforcement-oriented effort of the Youth Violence Strike Force and the Massachusetts Department of Probation. Police and probation officers patrol the streets together at night to ensure that offenders are complying with the terms of probation. Police and probation officers also visit offenders' schools and worksites to increase the probation officers' presence and dissuade offenders from violating the conditions of probation (Clark, 1997). Besides strengthening the relationships between offenders and probation and police officers, the probation and police officers forge relationships with each other, which in turn encourages information sharing and further collaborative efforts (U.S. Department of Justice, 1996).

Since Operation Night Light's inception, compliance with probation orders has dramatically increased. One probation officer reported that murders of his clients decreased from a total of 68 from 1990 to 1994 to only 3 since 1995 (U.S. Department of Justice, 1996). Other States are attempting to replicate Boston's success. Maryland officials launched a community probation program in September 1997 that has 3 or more probation agents teaming with police officers in 35 "hot spots."

Community Reintegration: Aftercare Programs

One of the most critical moments for juveniles placed in residential facilities occurs once they return from placement and attempt to reintegrate into their homes and communities. Often, juveniles who benefit from a controlled, structured environment have difficulties applying their newly acquired skills and conflict resolution techniques to real-life situations. Aftercare programs provide an extended period of supervision, surveillance, and service delivery to assist youth during this transitional period with the goal of preventing and reducing recidivism.

OJJDP has committed extensive resources to the area of aftercare services. Since 1987, OJJDP has supported a long-term program research and development model founded by Drs. David Altschuler of Johns Hopkins University and Troy Armstrong of California State University, Sacramento (see Altschuler and Armstrong, 1994a, 1994b, 1994c, 1996). This initiative prepares, transitions, and reintegrates the chronic, serious juvenile offender from secure confinement into the community in a gradual and highly structured manner. This initiative focuses on three distinct, yet overlapping components:

  • Prerelease and preparatory planning during secure confinement.

  • Structured transition that requires the participation of institutional and aftercare staff prior to and following community reintegration.

  • Long-term, reintegrative activities that ensure adequate service delivery and the necessary level of social control.

In a recently released OJJDP Bulletin, Reintegration, Supervised Release, and Intensive Aftercare, OJJDP's intensive aftercare program (IAP) model is distinguished from other traditional aftercare models, and initial findings of the efficacy of these programs are discussed (Altschuler, Armstrong, and MacKenzie, 1999). This Bulletin also describes the implementation of the IAP model in three jurisdictions. Their programs are briefly summarized below.

The Colorado IAP, operated by the Colorado Department of Human Services, Division of Youth Corrections (DYC), serves the most delinquent youth from the greater metropolitan Denver counties of Arapahoe, Denver, Douglas, and Jefferson. The program serves only committed youth from the Lookout Mountain Youth Service Center (LMYSC), a secure facility located in Golden, CO. All IAP participants are housed in a single cottage. Youth benefit from individualized care based on specialized assessment techniques. Project staff include three IAP client managers who provide intensive case management from institutional referral through community reentry and beyond. Within 60 days of a youth's confinement, a comprehensive plan is developed that establishes goals for successful community reintegration. Program components include a range of services provided at each stage of the reintegration process (i.e., institution phase, institution transition, community transition, and aftercare), including educational, special educational, and vocational services; counseling/mental health counseling; drug/alcohol prevention services; life skills; community service work; and transportation. A system of graduated sanctions and incentives is an integral component of this program.

Nevada's IAP, known as Fresh Start, is operated by the Nevada Youth Corrections Services Youth Parole Bureau. It serves high-risk youth from Clark County (Las Vegas), NV. All youth participating in Fresh Start are housed at the Caliente Youth Center, one of Nevada's two secure facilities for juvenile offenders, about 150 miles northeast of Las Vegas. All IAP participants are placed in Beowawe Cottage ("B" Cottage). The program relies on a team approach to handle case management. However, because of the long distance between the secure facility and the community, this program incorporates both structural and philosophical tenets that foster a case management system that extends beyond the transitional phase through the completion of the aftercare phase. Youth take courses in a prerelease curriculum devoted to social skills training. The program has implemented a system of positive incentives and graduated sanctions to emphasize accountability. Sanctions range from community service for minor misconduct to curfews, house arrest, and brief confinement for more serious offenses. Two community outreach trackers and other outreach workers support the youth center staff by providing additional monitoring.

Virginia's IAP project is referred to as the Intensive Parole Program (IPP). It is operated by the Virginia Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) and serves high-risk youth from the City of Norfolk, VA, who have been committed to the Department and placed at one of two central Virginia facilities—the Beaumont and Hanover Juvenile Correctional Centers. The initial phase of treatment, including the implementation of a life skills curriculum, begins at the Reception and Diagnostic Center, where juveniles are assessed to determine if they are high-risk offenders, based on a locally developed and validated risk assessment instrument. The IPP Management Team, composed of nine DJJ staff, is responsible for the development and implementation of each youth's treatment plan. Virginia has developed a coordinated transition to aftercare process that involves (1) the use of local group homes as "half-way back" residential facilities and a continuum of graduated parole supervision levels; (2) provision of services immediately upon the youth's return to the community; (3) an aftercare planning process that begins shortly after commitment and involves institutional, aftercare, and community agency staff; and (4) communication mechanisms that facilitate an integrated case management process across both the institutional and the aftercare transition stages.


Focus on Accountability: Best Practices for Juvenile Court and ProbationJAIBG Bulletin   ·  August 1999