Risk Assessment: Should Youth Be a Factor in Judging ‘Dangerousness’?

Pennsylvania’s Commission on Sentencing is weighing whether to use an offender’s age in determining the likelihood of committing a new crime, for a risk assessment tool due this summer. That flies in the face of recent juvenile justice reforms, such as Supreme Court rulings accepting adolescents have diminished responsibility, warns a Pennsylvania attorney.

This summer, the Pennsylvania Commission on Sentencing is expected to roll out a “risk assessment” tool for use by judges when sentencing offenders, fulfilling a mandate first commissioned by Gov. Ed Rendell back in 2010.

Incorporating risk assessments into sentencing in Pennsylvania has been a long time coming.

Giving judges more information about an offender’s background and his or her propensity for future violence is thought to enhance a jurist’s ability to make informed decisions that incorporate the core elements of sentencing: appropriate punishment, public safety and rehabilitation.

The Commission’s report would include an assessment with a scale from 0 to 18 points. The higher the score, the more likely the person being sentenced will reoffend.

An offender’s criminal record has long been a part of the sentencing process. In Pennsylvania, current sentencing guidelines take into consideration an offender’s criminal record. The longer the criminal record, the more severe the range of potential sentences.

But according to PublicSource.org, in addition to the information that has routinely been available to judges—prior record, seriousness of the offense and guidelines—the Commission on Sentencing is weighing whether judges should also be provided with a report to predict the offender’s future dangerousness.

Predicting the likelihood that an offender might offend again is highly controversial.

“This would represent a shift in punishing a person for what they did do, to what a person might do,” Mark Houldin, policy director for the Defender Association of Philadelphia, told Fox43 News in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. “And we think that is incredibly dangerous.”

Adding to the concern is one of the factors that would be part of a tool assessing future “dangerousness.”

Age.

Under the proposal being considered in Pennsylvania, anyone under age 21 gets five points. Those between 21 and 25 get four. The points lessen as the offender ages until, at age 49, the offender is not assessed any points based on age.

An 18-year-old gets five points right out of the gate. If an offender scores fewer than four points on the assessment, he or she would be considered a low recidivism risk. If the offender scores 10 or more points, the offender would be considered a high risk to reoffend. An 18-year-old would never be considered a low risk, and would be halfway to being a high risk without even considering any other factors.

Using age as a measure to assess the likelihood of future criminal behavior seems to fly in the face of other recent reforms in the criminal justice system.

According to The Marshall Project, a number of state courts and lower federal courts have begun to consider whether people between the ages of 18 and 21—the period psychologists now call “late adolescence”—should have the same kind of special consideration that juveniles get before they are sentenced.

In 2005, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that no person under the age of 18 shall be sentenced to death. Since then the court has also ruled that a juvenile can’t be sentenced to life without parole for a non-homicide offense, or to mandatory life without parole.

See also subsequent Court rulings in 2009 and 2011.

The Supreme Court has never extended those protections beyond the age of 18.

The status of young adults is especially confusing in Pennsylvania. A court last year considered an appeal from a woman who was sentenced to mandatory life without parole after serving as a lookout, at age 18, during a botched robbery that ended in murder.

The Superior court rejected her appeal, but called 18 an “arbitrary legal age of maturity,” and said an “honest reading” of the Supreme Court’s ruling would require courts to reconsider it. The Superior Court En Banc reheard the matter in October.

The Philadelphia Inquirer reported that some of the full panel of judges expressed concern that “someone a day over 18 and someone a day under 18 are treated differently,” and suggested the matter deserved closer examination.

Last year, a Kentucky court found that it was unconstitutional to sentence to death those who were younger than 21 at the time of their offense.

Earlier this year, a federal court in Connecticut found that a man, who had been sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole for murders committed at age 18, should be resentenced. The court ruled that “the hallmark characteristics of juveniles that make them less culpable also apply to 18-year-olds.”

In Pennsylvania, the significance of “late adolescence” appears to be very different if one is assisting a judge in sentencing as opposed to reviewing a sentence already imposed.

Matt Mangino

Matthew T. Mangino

The Commission on Sentencing has scheduled a series of hearings to get public feedback from social scientists, criminologists, practitioners and activists.

Rethinking incorporating age into the assessment tool for “dangerousness” should be part of the debate.

Additional Reading: How Race Distorts Risk Assessment for Minority Youth

Matthew T. Mangino is of counsel with Luxenberg, Garbett, Kelly & George P.C. His book The Executioner’s Toll, 2010 was released by McFarland Publishing. You can reach him at www.mattmangino.com and follow him on Twitter @MatthewTMangino.

 

from https://thecrimereport.org

How Race Distorts Risk Assessment for Minority Youth

Tools used by courts to judge whether an individual will re-offend rarely address the specific interaction of race and criminogenic risk, writes a University of Cincinnati researcher. She found that young African Americans have been especially shortchanged.

When Oliver Washington became head of the Edgecombe County Detention Center, in Tarboro, N.C., last July, he pledged that tackling recidivism—particularly among younger inmates— would be one of his top priorities.

“I always tell these young guys you have something to offer to the community when you leave here,” Capt. Washington, a 30-year veteran of the state’s penal system, said in an interview published in  the Rocky Mount (NC) Telegram..

While his priorities are right, the challenge for him and for others on the front lines of the justice system may be more complex than they imagine.

One of the primary ways that court and prison officials use to address and predict recidivism is through risk assessment tools, which analyze the key factors and data points from an offender’s background that are believed to make an impact on the likelihood of reoffending, according to the Congressional Research Service.

These factors can include, for example, anti-social behavior, anti-social peer relationships, problems in school, and involvement in substance abuse.

But addressing recidivism also requires understanding the role that race plays in accurately predicting who is at risk to reoffend.

And that is especially important in the case of youth offenders, for whom accuracy in the use of risk assessments is critical to determining whether they can avoid becoming ensnared in a cycle of criminal justice involvement as an adult, according to the New York Times.

One decision that juvenile courts frequently face when assessing an offending youth is whether that juvenile should be diverted through dismissal or into service learning programs, mental health treatment or advocacy/mentoring programs, especially when he or she has been arrested for relatively minor offenses.

The specific interaction of race and criminogenic risk, however, is rarely addressed with juvenile offenders.

Recent research conducted by myself and colleagues at the University of Cincinnati School of Criminal Justice, titled “Risk Assessment: An Interaction Between Risk, Race and Gender” showed that relationship between risk score and recidivism differed significantly for African-American and white youth, with the scores significantly less predicative for black juveniles.

Although a commonly used risk assessment instrument significantly predicted recidivism for all youth in the study, the risk-recidivism interaction was even more present for males and ethnic minorities.

More specifically, while there were no differences in the types of crimes committed and no difference in the proportion of low, moderate and high-risk African-American and white youth in the study, black males were more likely to receive a new court petition following their initial involvement with the juvenile court, compared to their white counterparts.

This means that there were factors beyond criminogenic risks as measured by risk assessment tools that led to recidivism. And it was the implementation of a risk assessment tool that allowed researchers to uncover this disparity.

These findings are not new, nor are they unique to the United States.

New Zealand’s Strategy

New Zealand faced a similar disproportionality problem regarding race and recidivism. In the 1980s, members of the country’s indigenous Maori population were six times more likely to enter the criminal justice system than whites, according to the Pacific Standard.

New Zealand also had difficulties with reducing repeat offending, despite an increased economic investment in prison resources, according to a March 2018 research paper “Using Evidence to Build a Better Justice System” by Prof. Sir Peter Gluckman, chief science advisor in the office of the New Zealand Prime Minister.

However, one promising step New Zealand has made involves focusing on the potential impact of delinquency prevention. Early intervention programs were more cost-effective than prisons and helped lower their recidivism rate.

Both the New Zealand examples and the findings from our study should inform U.S. practice and policies concerning issues of disproportionality in three primary ways:

1. Pay Attention to Sentencing Decisions that Exacerbate Risk

Court practitioners, like juvenile court officers and judges, should pay special attention to sentencing decisions that exacerbate criminogenic risk and increase adherence to treatment and program success.

Since risk assessment can provide an overview of responsivity, learning styles, personality, strengths, and motivations of the offender that promote program success, there are great opportunities to better match youth with appropriate services and treatment.

2. Leverage Risk Assessment Tools to Check for Bias

There’s an opportunity to leverage the use of risk assessment to evaluate implicit and explicit biased practices and procedures.  For example, court officers and service providers should implement policies that require tracking how risk assessment information is used in the decision-making process.

This can include placing a stronger emphasis on the need to document dosage and severity of programming, supervision level, sentence type, and length of juvenile dispositions.

3. Monitor Changes in Risk

 The use of reassessments to monitor changes in dynamic criminogenic risk is necessary. As society evolves, so will the issues that face individuals involved in the criminal justice system, and reassessments will help address racial disparities in the criminal justice process.

While these solutions could greatly help lesser recidivism and inequalities among minority offenders, there are forces that have stopped them from being immediately implemented.

Convincing court officials to adopt these new and strength-based approaches to reducing criminogenic risk is a timely procedure. Plus, offenders involved in corrections often face environmental risks like limited resources and poor social/economic conditions, requiring more questions to be asked about how environment plays into the reduction of recidivism.

Not implementing these solutions could cause more damage in the long run. Failing to acknowledge or address the potential gaps in recidivism among minorities will only perpetuate problems and violate human rights.

New Zealand’s example shows that the use of strength-based approaches like restorative justice programs and diversion are both economically beneficial and help out society in the long run vs. investing more money in residential facilities and prisons.

Christina Campbell

Christina Campbell

These types of approaches are just a few alternatives to decreasing court involvement that place less emphasis on the punishment and the use of courts, and more emphasis on building healthy youth and communities.

Christina A. Campbell, Ph.D.is a professor at The University of Cincinnati’s Online Master of Science in Criminal Justice. Her primary research interests include delinquency prevention, risk assessment, juvenile justice policy, and neighborhood ecology. She welcomes comments from readers.

from https://thecrimereport.org

Can Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Help Juvenile Offenders?

When youths are preconditioned to violence and crime, disregard for the law becomes automatic. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) targets this “criminal thinking” to reduce crime and recidivism— and give juveniles the opportunity of a productive future.

Looking back on childhood, a scene of handcuffs and reporting to probation officers does not usually come to mind. Unfortunately, this is the reality for many juveniles in the United States.

On any given day, nearly 53,000 youths sit in U.S. juvenile or criminal facilities due to involvement with the justice system, according to a 2018 report by the Prison Policy Institute (PPI).

The report also notes that “two out of every three confined youths are held in the most restrictive facilities,” with almost one in ten confined juveniles incarcerated in adult facilities.

Though there is no national average recidivism rate for juveniles, reports from individual states remain stubbornly high, with many re-arrest rates at more than 50 percent over a one- to three-year period, according to a paper prepared by The Council of State Governments Justice Center.

So, the question becomes, even with specialized courts and detention facilities responding to juvenile offending, why are so many children caught in the cycle of crime?

The answer to this behavior lies, in part, within the biology of the adolescent brain.

Neurobiology points to key differences between the brain composition of a juvenile compared to an adult. A study from the National Research Council (NRC) notes that juveniles’ lack of mature self-discipline in emotional situations, have increased susceptibility to peer pressure and instant-gratification incentives, and use less judgement based on future goals, fostering poor decisions that negatively impact themselves and others.

More specifically, according to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, the prefrontal cortex, the area responsible for reasoning and decision-making is not fully developed in children and adolescences.

Depending heavily on the already-matured brain structure of the amygdala, the region responsible for emotional and impulse responses, juveniles rely less on logic and more on reaction to guide their behavior.

The Adolescent Brain

Despite adolescents’ predisposition to unpredictability and explosiveness, having a developing brain allows for the shaping of thought and actions, maximizing the effectiveness of treatment and diversion programs for those connected with the justice system—in effect, letting kids be kids and not kids behind bars.

A major player in treatment that utilizes this ability to mold and reform thoughts and behaviors is cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT).

CBT works under the premise that the way we think about a circumstance explicitly shapes our decisions and behavior; adverse thoughts lead to adverse behavior, while a positive mentality leads to positive behavior.

For example, enduring negative thoughts before giving a presentation such as “I know I’m going to mess up,” causes anxiety and fear which then dictates our behavior, making it more likely that these fears will come true. On the other hand, experiencing helpful thoughts such as “I am confident in my work and abilities,” will lead to a positive presentation outcome.

Though traditionally used in psychology to treat various disorders, the goal of CBT in the context of the justice system is to present a counterbalance to these automatic negative thoughts by helping participants understand the thinking processes and choices that precede criminal behavior.

For those youth who have a family member in jail or just grow up around maladaptive behavior, such as violence, abuse, and disrespect to authority, these actions are engrained into their minds as normal and automatic, simply “part of life.”

Many of these hardened criminals pass down the cycle of negative thought (wanting to be the most feared inmate in the state or swearing to never snitch on a fellow criminal, for example) to younger followers or family members.

Although this creates challenges in reforming these individuals solely through traditional punishment, CBT provides an escape from the “criminal mentality,” targeting offenders’ thinking through impulse management, critical and moral reasoning, means-ends problem solving, and social skill improvement, according to the National Institute of Justice.

Dr. Jack Bush, an Oregon-based cognitive therapist, has taken these foundational treatments and created his own version of cognitive behavioral therapy, called cognitive self-change.

Highlighting the need for reform, Dr. Bush argues in a recent article posted on the National Public Radio website, that “incarceration is a basic tool of criminal justice, but when the sole purpose is punishment and confinement, offenders respond, in the privacy of their own minds, with resentment and defiance.

“The thinking that led them to offend is not extinguished by punishment; it is reinforced.”

Dr. Bush focuses on minimizing the chance of recidivism by reforming dysfunctional thinking through four central steps:

  • Becoming more aware of thoughts and feelings;
  • recognizing how these thoughts and feelings are directly connected to harmful or unlawful behavior;
  • Brainstorming new ways of thinking that allow offenders to still feel good about themselves but which do not led to acts of crime; and finally
  • Applying this thinking to real-life situations.

Cognitive Self-Change (CSC), another way to describe the approach, stresses the skills offenders need in order to change themselves, rather than forcing an individual to change.

Participants in this program are given a pivotal message:

“When you learn how to steer your thinking away from crime and violence…you have a real choice to make. If you don’t learn these skills your important decisions will have already been made. Your decisions will be made in advance by the attitudes and habits of thinking you perform in your mind automatically, ‘without thinking.’”

Asked to assess CSC’s significance, Dr. Bush quoted one participant as saying, “I realized that the story of my past doesn’t need to be the story of my future.”

Dr. Bush commented: “I think that captures the heart of what CSC offers. It doesn’t cure a disease. It opens possibilities for new forms of life.”

He added that the approach can “change criminal justice attitudes.”

“CSC demands an attitude supportive of change by the criminal justice system,” he said. “This is contrary to punitive and condemnatory and exclusionary attitudes.”

The introspective treatment program of CBT has been found to be 79.2 percent in reducing crime among juveniles through a meta-analysis of 50 cognitive behavioral therapy programs conducted by the National Institute of Justice.

Additionally, CBT led to a 44 percent reduction in recidivism in a study of disadvantaged male youth (grades 7-10) from high-crime Chicago neighborhoods, by the National Bureau of Economic Research.

Encouraged by these successful statistics, more and more programs utilizing CBT have been implemented in prisons and jails across the country.

In 2016, the Sheriff’s Office of Thomas Dart in Cook County, Illinois started the ongoing initiative of Sheriff’s Anti-Violence Effort (SAVE), a program working to curb violence by changing the way high-risk offenders think. The program has also been adapted by the Davidson County Sheriff’s Office in Nashville, TN.

A Therapy Curriculum

With a focus on reducing gun violence, SAVE provides inmates with therapy curriculum including conflict resolution and anger management, according to the Cook County Sheriff’s Department.

Of the program participants, a study found that only 17 percent were readmitted to the jail within a year and a half, in contrast to the 75 percent readmission for those inmates who did not go through the program.

Not limited to inside correctional facilities, cognitive behavioral therapy also has an important role in schools, with the goal of providing youths with cognitive skills needed to keep them out of contact with the justice system in the first place.

Education has a close relationship with crime. If a juvenile is incarcerated, he or she is 13 percentage points less likely to graduate high school and 22 percentage points more likely to be incarcerated when they are an adult.

Without a high school degree, juveniles are susceptible not only to engaging in crime, but also face increased chances of unemployment and poverty, which are also major contributors to the factors behind committing a crime.

Striving to avoid these outcomes, The Center for Court Innovation, a nonprofit organization seeking to reform the justice system, has implemented a “restorative justice” program in five high schools in Brooklyn, NY.

“What restorative justice allows us to do is to look beyond the behavior and look at some of the root causes and see how we can prevent this from turning into something much bigger,” program coordinator, Mischael Cetout, said during a recent PBS News Hour special.

According to the Center for Court Innovation, its restorative justice approach works to “promote individual responsibility and participation, repair harm, and build relationships.”

Student participants develop empathy and communication skills through “harm circles,” a space where conversation is mediated by a program coordinator to resolve conflicts between peers and give time for the students to reflect.

Employing CBT practices, this program drills down to find the root cause of an issue and allows students to understand why they acted in a certain way and what they can do better in a similar situation in the future.

By giving youths these skills to handle an explosive or enraging situation, this design essentially works as a diversion program; lowering the number of disciplinary incidents which subsequently allows students to redirect from a path of delinquency and harm to one of respect and success.

Policy Loopholes Add Complications

Though CBT programs have successfully been implemented in and out of the justice system, issues still remain for juveniles in receiving the benefits of this therapy due to policy loopholes.

Recognizing that culpability of a crime may lay more on the composition of a growing brain (as opposed to an individual being purposefully defiant), the federal courts put in place specialized juvenile programs and standards, including the most recent authorization of the Juvenile Justice Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDPA) in 2002.

Setting forth safety and treatment standards for youth, the act establishes four core requirements: deinstitutionalization of status offenders, adult jail and lock-up removal, “sight and sound” separation of juveniles from adults, and disproportionate minority contact.

However, JJDPA was amended to “create an exception to the DSO [deinstitutionalization of status offenders] core requirement that allows judges to securely confine youth adjudicated for a status offense if the child violated a “valid” order of the court,” according to the Coalition for Juvenile Justice.

This exception converts a minor status offense such as skipping school or running away from home, into a criminal act. It does so by providing judges with a loophole; although truancy is not a detainable offense, youth can be punished for violating a court order to attend school every day.

The Vera Institute reports that “as of 2011 [the last year of available data], 27 states used the so-called VCO exception, and thousands of kids are still removed from their homes to be put in detention and out-of-home placements each year.”

Not only does this exception disrupt a child’s daily life, it can also put their safety at risk and limit their access to treatment.

The Campaign for Youth Justice estimates that 200,000 youth are tried, sentenced, or incarcerated as adults each year in the United States, while juveniles within the adult criminal system are between 34 percent and 77 percent more likely to be re-arrested for a crime.

The protection from adult offenders under the JJDPA do not apply to those youth who are prosecuted in the adult criminal justice, subjecting them to mandatory minimums, increased exposure to abuse, and use of solitary confinement to segregate.

When juveniles are exposed to hardened criminals, the destructive “criminal thinking” becomes more deep-seated, complicating reform and rehabilitation through cognitive behavioral therapy.

Additionally, due to the vulnerability of juveniles to abuse from older inmates, many officers tend to protect youths by confining them to a segregation unit. This limits the access to treatment and therapy for juveniles by isolating them, unable to ‘talk things out’ within a group of individuals.

Luckily, NRC researchers commenting on the legal effects of brain chemistry, note that “much adolescent involvement in illegal activity is an extension of the kind of risk-taking that is part of the developmental process of identity formation, and most adolescents mature out of these tendencies.”

Laura Binczewski

Laura Binczewski

So, by implementing CBT programs in and out of the justice system, juveniles armed with beneficial cognitive skills will be able to avoid or restrain their criminal behavior as they grow older.

Though CBT has been found to be successful for offenders as well as in reducing taxpayer money on incarceration, Dr. Bush notes that we should not “replace incarceration with treatment or let people out of prison early just because they have taken treatment.

“But,” he continued, “adding treatment to incarceration provides hope to offenders now, and benefits to society in the future.”

Laura Binczweski is a TCR news intern. She welcomes comments from readers.

from https://thecrimereport.org

Harsh or Absentee Dads Lead to Delinquent Kids: Study

In a study of 1,216 first-time young offenders, researchers found that teenage boys who said their fathers were absent or harsh were more likely to engage in delinquent behavior. The mother-child influence was found to have no effect on the results.

Adolescent boys with harsh, remote fathers are at greater risk of delinquency and substance abuse than their counterparts, according to a new study.

Researchers interviewed 1,216 male first-time juvenile offenders from Philadelphia, Pa.; Jefferson Parish, La.; and Orange County, Ca., asking them about their relationship with the person they considered their farther. All had been arrested on misdemeanor charges such as theft and vandalism.

According to the researchers, juveniles who reported their fathers were either harsh or rarely present engaged in more offending behavior, and were involved in more substance abuse than those who said they had “high-quality” relationships with their dads.

The influence of the mother-child relationship was found to have no effect on the results.

The population sample was ethnically diverse, and ranged in age from 13 to 17. Blacks represented 37 percent, Latinos 46 percent, and whites 15 percent.

Published in the January 2018 issue of Journal of Adolescence, the study was conducted by Cortney Simmons of the University of California, Irvine; Laurence Steinberg of Temple University; Paul J. Frick of Louisiana State University; and Elizabeth Cauffman, also of the University of California, Irvine .

The youths  were initially interviewed six weeks after their first arrest, and then interviewed again six  months later. The questions began with requesting participants to identify their precise relationship to whomever they considered to be their father, whether biological, adoptive, or otherwise.

Further questions included, “How often does your father/mother let you know he/she really cares about you?” and “How often does your father/mother get angry at you?” on a scale of  one to 4. Researchers focused on youth reporting a high level of hostility and a low level of warmth in their relationships with their fathers.

Two subsamples of the participants were developed, called the “absent-father” and the “harsh-father” groups. Latino youth represented 50 percent of the harsh-father group, while Black youth comprised 53.95 percent of the absent-father group.

Participants were also asked to report on details of their households and their parents’ level of education. Approximately 29 percent the sample population reported not having a parent with a high school degree. Roughly 36 percent reported having a parent with a college degree or some level of vocational training after high school.

The researchers noted that “absent” father is a vague designation. Residing outside the child’s home doesn’t indicate in itself the level of contact the father has with his children.

“We accounted for the possible continuum of father involvement by combining both youth identification and household composition to define father absence.”

Only those who indicated they had no father figure whatsoever were included in the absent father group.

The authors commented that policymakers and advocates should reflect on the varied quality of father-child relationship before they attempt to encourage the engagement of absent fathers in their children’s lives.

“It may be irresponsible to encourage fathers to be involved without acknowledging the importance of the quality of the father-child relationship,” they wrote.

The full study, entitled “The Differential Influence of Absent and Harsh Fathers on Juvenile Delinquency” can be downloaded here.

This summary was prepared by TCR news intern John Ramsey. Readers’ comments are welcome.

from https://thecrimereport.org

Harsh or Absentee Dads Lead to Delinquent Kids: Study

In a study of 1,216 first-time young offenders, researchers found that teenage boys who said their fathers were absent or harsh were more likely to engage in delinquent behavior. The mother-child influence was found to have no effect on the results.

Adolescent boys with harsh, remote fathers are at greater risk of delinquency and substance abuse than their counterparts, according to a new study.

Researchers interviewed 1,216 male first-time juvenile offenders from Philadelphia, Pa.; Jefferson Parish, La.; and Orange County, Ca., asking them about their relationship with the person they considered their farther. All had been arrested on misdemeanor charges such as theft and vandalism.

According to the researchers, juveniles who reported their fathers were either harsh or rarely present engaged in more offending behavior, and were involved in more substance abuse than those who said they had “high-quality” relationships with their dads.

The influence of the mother-child relationship was found to have no effect on the results.

The population sample was ethnically diverse, and ranged in age from 13 to 17. Blacks represented 37 percent, Latinos 46 percent, and whites 15 percent.

Published in the January 2018 issue of Journal of Adolescence, the study was conducted by Cortney Simmons of the University of California, Irvine; Laurence Steinberg of Temple University; Paul J. Frick of Louisiana State University; and Elizabeth Cauffman, also of the University of California, Irvine .

The youths  were initially interviewed six weeks after their first arrest, and then interviewed again six  months later. The questions began with requesting participants to identify their precise relationship to whomever they considered to be their father, whether biological, adoptive, or otherwise.

Further questions included, “How often does your father/mother let you know he/she really cares about you?” and “How often does your father/mother get angry at you?” on a scale of  one to 4. Researchers focused on youth reporting a high level of hostility and a low level of warmth in their relationships with their fathers.

Two subsamples of the participants were developed, called the “absent-father” and the “harsh-father” groups. Latino youth represented 50 percent of the harsh-father group, while Black youth comprised 53.95 percent of the absent-father group.

Participants were also asked to report on details of their households and their parents’ level of education. Approximately 29 percent the sample population reported not having a parent with a high school degree. Roughly 36 percent reported having a parent with a college degree or some level of vocational training after high school.

The researchers noted that “absent” father is a vague designation. Residing outside the child’s home doesn’t indicate in itself the level of contact the father has with his children.

“We accounted for the possible continuum of father involvement by combining both youth identification and household composition to define father absence.”

Only those who indicated they had no father figure whatsoever were included in the absent father group.

The authors commented that policymakers and advocates should reflect on the varied quality of father-child relationship before they attempt to encourage the engagement of absent fathers in their children’s lives.

“It may be irresponsible to encourage fathers to be involved without acknowledging the importance of the quality of the father-child relationship,” they wrote.

The full study, entitled “The Differential Influence of Absent and Harsh Fathers on Juvenile Delinquency” can be downloaded here.

This summary was prepared by TCR news intern John Ramsey. Readers’ comments are welcome.

from https://thecrimereport.org

L.A. County Introduces ‘Lighter Touch’ for Juvenile Offenders

The nation’s most populous county is embarking on an overhaul of its juvenile justice system that could in the long run, all but end the practice of arresting and prosecuting youth under 18, except for the most serious crimes.

Los Angeles County—the birthplace of heavy-handed police tactics like S.W.A.T. teams, helicopter patrols and gang injunctions—is embarking on an effort that could make the nation’s most populous county a model for using a lighter touch with juvenile offenders.

Late last year, the LA County Board of Supervisors approved a sweeping plan that will make diversion the centerpiece of the county’s juvenile justice system, and could in the long run, all but end the practice of arresting and prosecuting youth under 18, except for the most serious crimes.

“This is a huge sea change and represents a whole new era in dealing with youth, especially youth of color,” said Peter Espinosa, a former Los Angeles County Superior Court judge who is leading the effort.

Espinosa heads the new Division of Youth Diversion & Development, which county supervisors created within the Department of Health Services when they approved the plan last November. The department is tasked with designing a program that will ultimately serve all 46 police agencies within the county borders, including the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD), the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department and the juvenile probation division, and the many smaller police departments within the county borders.

County health officials cite so-far unpublished U.S. Department of Justice figures that show youth arrests have plummeted in Los Angeles County over the past decade –from 56,285 in 2005 to 11,399 in 2016.Yet they estimate that in as many as 9,000 of those 2016 cases, young people could have been offered a diversion program had there been proper resources in place.

The only offenses not eligible for diversion under the plan are felonies committed with a firearm and serious juvenile crimes which the state Welfare and Institutions Code has declared ineligible for diversion. That includes: assaults that result in serious bodily injury, robbery, rape and sexual assault, kidnapping, murder and attempted murder, and several other violent felonies.

“We are trying to emphasize prevention and we don’t believe the most effective solution is incarceration,” said Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, who first proposed the plan in early 2017 and shepherded it through the county supervisors’ vote in November.

“We believe that is better for the young person involved as well as better for taxpayers.”

When Ridley-Thomas mentions taxpayers, he is alluding to the estimated $233,000 it costs to house a young offender in one of the county’s juvenile lockups for one year.

Espinosa acknowledges that bringing the plan to fruition “will be a heavy lift,” especially when considering the current state of diversion in the county. While there are diversion programs operating now, they exist in pockets of the county and are inconsistently offered.

Youth advocates have long complained that whether a juvenile is offered diversion depends on where in the county he or she is arrested, and the color of their skin. A number of studies have shown that white youth in Los Angeles and elsewhere are far more likely to be offered diversion than youth of color. Because the new diversion plan will cover the entire county, officials and advocates are optimistic that it will help reduce these disparities.

Despite the daunting nature of the undertaking, there is a palpable excitement for the plan in law enforcement as well as among youth advocates.

“It’s been a thrill to watch it unfold,” said Robert Ross, president and CEO of the California Endowment, which has invested heavily in efforts to limit youth incarceration. Because the LA system is so large, we think the direction they are headed in will have national implications.”

Breaking New Ground

Ross and others say the plan is groundbreaking because it prioritizes pre-charge diversion, meaning that a youth alleged to have committed a crime will be diverted before being booked and fingerprinted. This means that as long as he or she completes a diversion program, there will be no record of the arrest.

This is crucial, youth advocates say, because studies have shown that any contact with the juvenile justice system, even just an arrest and one court date, makes a child less likely to finish school and more likely to become further ensnared in the system.

 While advocates have long pined for pre-charge diversion, it’s traditionally been a deal-breaker for many in law enforcement who have feared it would remove an important crime deterrent. But successful large-scale diversion programs in a handful of other places, such as Miami-Dade and San Francisco counties, have suggested that those fears are largely unfounded.

High-level officials in the LAPD have bought into pre-charge diversion thanks to a five-year-old partnership with Centinela Youth Services, a local nonprofit focused on youth and community development.

The program started in the LAPD’s South Division, with officers referring 49 pre-charge cases to Centinela in 2013. Since then, the program has expanded to a dozen divisions, with officers referring 254 cases to Centinela in 2017, according to Cmdr. Jeffery Bert, the LAPD’s Risk Manager.

And though those cases represent a small fraction of all juvenile arrests by LAPD officers during those five years, the recidivism rates opened a lot of eyes.

The recidivism rate for youths who go through the county’s juvenile justice system without the offer of diversion is between 30 percent and 60 percent, Bert said.

Meanwhile, the rate for youth in the Centinela program has hovered around 11 percent.

“This program has really blossomed for us in the past two years,” Bert said. “We believe in it and would like to see its smart expansion.”

The LAPD’s experience notwithstanding, advocates say getting system-wide buy-in for the pre-charge model was an uphill battle, and likely wouldn’t have happened had they not elbowed their way into the development process, starting in March 2017 when a committee established by the supervisors began meeting to design the plan.

“Usually system change is driven by county players and law enforcement, and it gears too much toward suppression and a hammer-only approach,” said Kim McGill, an organizer with LA County’s Youth Justice Coalition.

“If we didn’t push hard and bring four or five young people to every meeting, we wouldn’t have gotten this plan.”

One young person who joined the lobbying effort is Tanisha Denard, who was charged with petty theft and sent to juvenile hall as a 16-year-old after getting caught stealing personal hygiene items from a store in South Central Los Angeles.

In an interview, Denard, now 23, claimed she hasn’t been in any trouble with the law since, and that she stole the items because her mom was in the process of losing her house to foreclosure and she didn’t want to burden her with more expenses.

But her record has been a severe hindrance as she’s tried to get through college.

“For a long time, it held me back as I tried to find jobs and pay for college,” said Denard, who is currently attending Long Beach City College. “I would do good in the interviews, but then it would come to the background check and they’d say your background didn’t pass…if I’d gone through diversion I’d be at a university by now.”

Sheila Mitchell, who heads the county’s juvenile probation division, said she was excited to see the groups that in past haven’t seen eye-to-eye come together.

“Fundamentally and philosophically, we need to help our children do well, and help them avoid the path that takes them deep into the juvenile justice system,” Mitchell said. “The beauty of this undertaking is all hands are on deck—courts, law enforcement, supervisors, and community-based organizations.”

Finding the Money

Over $26 million has been budgeted for the plan, which will be phased in over four years. Mitchell is being credited for offering up nearly half of the funding from her budget in the probation department.

Advocates characterize the $26 million as “a good start,” but add there is concern as to whether the county will dedicate the resources necessary to build capacity within community-based organizations that would sustain a countywide diversion program over the long haul.

“The county has invested a lot of money in blue ribbon panels and task forces in the past, but unfortunately they often sit on the shelf and collect dust,” said McGill of the Youth Justice Coalition.

“So, it will take the same vigilance and united effort among county players and [community-based organizations] that we’ve had so far to make sure this plan is implemented.”

County officials say they’re confident they’ll be able to find other funding for the program, including state grant money. And they are counting on charities to provide increased funding to community organizations that will serve the diverted youth.

“There’s a lot of energy for criminal justice reform in the philanthropic community,” said Ridley-Thomas, who gave the opening remarks to a crowd of more than 300 at the Youth Diversion & Development Summit, held March 1 at the Carson Community Center.

“I think charities are already stepping up because they want to see certain kind of results.”

Ross of the California Endowment said his institution is dedicated to helping to make the plan work, so much so that he showed up and spoke at the supervisors’ meeting when the plan was approved. But he cautioned against expecting too much from philanthropies, adding that the largest pool of potentially available money is the billions in taxpayer dollars currently being spent on California’s “incarceration infrastructure.”

“I think the philanthropic community will be emboldened and bolstered should the LA County plan go forward,” Ross said.

David Washburn

David Washburn

“We see our role and supporting the development and evaluating the effectiveness of the approaches. But it’s the public and taxpayer dollars that will be the main driver of change – the philanthropic money won’t be able to save the day.”

The Crime Report is pleased to co-publish this story with the California Health Report, a statewide nonprofit news service that covers health and health policy. David Washburn is a San Diego-based journalist who has worked at the San Diego Union-Tribune, the Voice of San Diego and Dateline NBC. In recent years, he’s focused on issues related to juvenile justice and school discipline. He welcomes readers’ comments.

from https://thecrimereport.org

The Unfinished Business of Juvenile Justice

Most states, with some notable exceptions, have raised the age at which youths are exposed to the adult justice system. But the harder task of improving services for troubled young people is still ahead, warns a Justice Policy Institute expert.

Lawmakers in New York, North Carolina, Missouri, and Texas are currently debating proposals that would move 16-or-17-year-olds (or both) out of the adult criminal justice system and into the juvenile court.

This development comes after seven states raised their age of jurisdiction over the past decade. In those states, as a result, half the number of youth who were previously automatically sent to  adult courts now appear before a juvenile court judge—an outcome which  increases the likelihood that a young person will move past delinquency, and avoid the abuse and harm youth can face in adult facilities.

The governors of New York and North Carolina support “raise the age” proposals.  Now, with a new report issued by the Justice Policy Institute, legislators have evidence that states which made the shift experienced improved public safety and youth-development outcomes, all without overwhelming their juvenile justice systems.

But even with these advances, no state “finishes” the process of building a more effective youth justice system simply by changing a law. Policymaking is an ongoing process of continued improvement and of adopting approaches that will help youth succeed.

For those states that have “raised the age,” and have managed the change without increasing juvenile corrections costs, the next phase of reform will involve revamping their “reinvestment” approach – and stepping up support to serve youth in the community.

There are a number of reasons why Connecticut, Illinois and Massachusetts served tens of thousands of more teenagers in their courts and corrections systems without seeing costs spike.  The juvenile crime decline that the latest national data says is continuing played a big role in helping these three states absorb new populations of youth without overwhelming the system, which should help persuade New York, North Carolina, Missouri and Texas to make the shift.

There is another reason why states that have already changed the age of juvenile jurisdiction were able to keep costs in check.  They took parallel steps to reduce reliance on the most expensive, least effective ways to address a young persons’ behavior.

The most effective youth justice system approaches are focused on serving more youth in the community and reallocating existing resources to support youth and their families at-home.  By diverting more youth from the courts, improving how probation and aftercare processes work, ramping up treatment for youth in the community if they need it, and using strategies to keep youth out of pretrial detention and youth facilities, youth justice systems can manage raising the age of jurisdiction while keeping corrections costs in check.

But unfortunately, just because facilities close it does not mean that all of the dollars saved are reinvested in strategies to help youth succeed.

Connecticut and Illinois raised the age for 16-or-17-year-olds (or both) in the past decade, and significantly downsized the deep end of their correctional continuum.  But in both states, cuts to children’s health, housing, education and workforce development threaten to undermine efforts to serve youth through the “right door”—through strong schools, mental health treatment if they need it, and by organizations staffed by people from young people’s own communities.  

As the Justice Policy Institute interviewed stakeholders in the states that led the raise the age trend, we heard that years of tightening budgets might mean cuts to youth-serving systems that could inadvertently undermine the very approaches that can reduce reliance on the most expensive parts of the youth justice continuum.

Youth corrections budgets—even probation and aftercare budgets—are relatively small compared to mental health, education, workforce development, human services and housing.  When a young person isn’t deeply involved in the justice system, other child-serving agencies coordinate resources, and harness multiple funding streams to address a young person’s needs in their community.

Taxpayers are already paying for an infrastructure to serve young people in the community.  Ideally, stakeholders who fund and run community based services outside of the justice system should coordinate with juvenile justice agencies to provide the support that young people need to make it less likely they will reoffend.

Research has also shown for a decade that youth are less likely to reoffend when they are served by the youth justice system rather than the adult system – something that will save us all money by curbing downstream crime costs.

The community-based approaches that were key to Connecticut, Illinois and Massachusetts avoiding a spike in costs as they raised the age are less expensive than confinement; but they are not free.

Jason Ziedenberg

Lawmakers in New York, North Carolina, Missouri and Texas should vote to raise the age this year. But after lawmakers celebrate the bill signing, they need to be focused on coordinating and supporting efforts to sustain the community-based approaches designed to address what any young person – justice involved, or not—needs to thrive.

Doing so will result in successful implementation of a move to raise the age.

Jason Ziedenberg is the Research and Policy Director of the Justice Policy Institute, a think tank dedicated to reducing the use of incarceration and the justice system by promoting fair and effective policies. He is a coauthor of Raising the Age: Shifting to a More Effective Juvenile Justice System. He welcomes readers’ comments.

 

from https://thecrimereport.org

Juveniles And Violent Crime

Subtitles Per the FBI: Out of 4,608,000 offenders arrested or connected to a crime, 465,000 were juveniles with 697,000 unknown. Per the Bureau of Justice Statistics: During 2004–13, adolescents made up 10 percent of the U.S. population age 12 or older but were offenders in 22 percent of all nonfatal violent victimizations. Author By Leonard […]

Subtitles Per the FBI: Out of 4,608,000 offenders arrested or connected to a crime, 465,000 were juveniles with 697,000 unknown. Per the Bureau of Justice Statistics: During 2004–13, adolescents made up 10 percent of the U.S. population age 12 or older but were offenders in 22 percent of all nonfatal violent victimizations. Author By Leonard […]

from http://www.crimeinamerica.net