Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Three Strategies for Changing Juvenile Justice: Which Is Most Likely to Last?

 By Benjamin Chambers

A recent report from the National Juvenile Justice Network (NJJN), titled, "Bringing Youth Home: A National Movement to Increase Public Safety, Rehabilitate Youth and Save Money," documented the extraordinary number of states and jurisdictions (at least 24) that are closing or downsizing their youth correctional facilities, due to budget cuts, legislation, lawsuits, and pressure from reformers. (Download the report for tips on ways to downsize wisely.)

This is a good thing, because it means taxpayers can save money or avoid the high cost of incarceration, and reallocate those monies to community-based programs that are more effective at helping young people turn their lives around.

Right on the heels of the NJJN report comes a new report from Jeffrey A. Butts and Douglas N. Evans from the John Jay College of Criminal Justice's Research and Evaluation Center in New York, titled, Resolution, Reinvestment, and Realignment: Three Strategies for Changing Juvenile Justice. In it, they ask:
  • Do these reforms represent a permanent shift in policy and practice, or are they merely a temporary reaction to tight budgets and low rates of violent crime?
  • Will policymakers maintain the reforms if and when crime rises and budgets rebound?
To answer those questions, they reviewed -- I'm quoting from the press release -- "the most prominent juvenile correctional reform models from the past 40 years, and they conclude that some models of reform are likely to be more sustainable than others."

Here's the three reform models they identified (I'm quoting again):
  1. Resolution Models: Reforms are accomplished and maintained with managerial action and state leadership. Examples: The “Missouri Model” and statewide reforms in Massachusetts and Utah during the 1970s and 1980s.
  2. Reinvestment Models: Reforms are accomplished and maintained using financial incentives to reduce the demand of local jurisdictions for state-operated confinement institutions. Examples: RECLAIM Ohio, Redeploy Illinois, and recent reforms in Texas.
  3. Realignment Models: Reforms are achieved and sustained by reorganizing juvenile justice systems, reducing or eliminating state-level confinement and replacing it with local services and placement. Examples: Wayne County, Michigan and the California realignment policy enacted with Senate Bill 81 in 2007.
Their conclusions?
  • The "'realignment' approach now being implemented in California and the realignment reforms established in Wayne County (Detroit), Michigan since 2000" is most likely to be sustainable over time.
  • Moreover, reforms based on financial incentives (costs avoided by closing down costly facilities) are probably the most easily reversed. 
>>Download Resolution, Reinvestment, and Realignment: Three Strategies for Changing Juvenile Justice.

This story is printed with permission from Reclaiming Futures, a nationwide initiative working to improve alcohol and drug treatment outcomes for youth in the juvenile justice system.

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