four states (IA, AR, TN, DE) on map

In 2019, the Crime and Justice Institute (CJI) ramped up work in Arkansas, Delaware, Iowa, and Tennessee. With funding from the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP), CJI is providing technical assistance to states by implementing juvenile justice policy and practice changes and helping system leaders address challenges to meet state‐specific goals.

Learn about juvenile justice work CJI has done in other states here.

Systems change requires a big investment for big goals to come to life. Arkansas is currently in the shift between planning and implementing effective change to reach their goals. The changes Arkansas seeks to put in place are not simply about implementation of their program, but about changing the system’s approach to juvenile justice.

Currently, leaders in Arkansas are working towards reduced length of stay policies and improved treatment services for youth committed to the custody of the Division of Youth Services (DYS). By implementing these changes, Arkansas is better aligning their practices with research on best practices for effectively treating young people while they are in state custody. Arkansas recognizes continual stakeholder engagement will be necessary as these changes take place.

Before Arkansas can fully update their treatment and case management processes to better identify and accomplish goals for youth in their custody, Arkansas leaders must address the bigger challenge of organizational restructuring. Changing their model and approach takes people power, buy‐in, and time. For example, the decision to increase the frequency of treatment‐plan progress meetings for each youth with a multi‐disciplinary team will take time as current staff adjust to a new approach, new process model, new responsibilities, and changing expectations.

With time, strong leadership, support for staff, and assistance from CJI, both DYS and the young people in their custody can be more successful.

Recently, Delaware juvenile justice leaders recognized that increasing diversion opportunities for youth at both the pre‐arrest and post‐arrest stages would benefit young people, families, and communities across the state. Currently, only five types of juvenile diversion programs exist in Delaware, but are not available in all counties, do not operate uniformly, and lack a statewide data collection process. Since research demonstrates that limiting a young person’s exposure to formal system processing may lead to better outcomes, Delaware specifically identified a goal to implement a new diversion process. One focus of that goal includes a greater consistency in post‐arrest diversion programming across the state.

With the goal of implementing a new diversion process in place, leaders in Delaware updated their pre and post‐arrest diversion processes to include expanded criteria, which allows more eligible offenses, and subsequently leads to more young people diverted away from detention centers and formal processing. More specifically, Department of Youth Rehabilitative Services (DYRS) staff will use a prescreen assessment tool to identify risk level and criminogenic need(s) to guide appropriate service referrals, including diversion recommendations, for low‐level youth. DYRS will collect data on the new process to ensure implementation fidelity, equity in diversion offerings, and outcomes.

One challenge Delaware faces is how to implement everything effectively in a short amount of time. In partnership with CJI, Delaware leaders, staff, and stakeholders are meeting that challenge head on and working hard to create the necessary tools for the new process, including data collection mechanisms and training for staff involved in the new process. Doing so will enable Delaware to better serve its young people through appropriate referrals and use data to help guide further system improvements.

Iowa leaders recently undertook strategic planning to make changes within their juvenile justice system. With their new, comprehensive plan, Iowa expects to reduce recidivism, improve outcomes for youth, increase public safety, and reduce racial and ethnic disparities across the juvenile justice system. As a part of its plan, Iowa is improving decision‐making by updating and implementing two statewide tools:

  • The Iowa Delinquency Assessment (IDA), used to assess risks and needs of a young person to guide appropriate decision‐making and case planning throughout the supervision period, and
  • The Detention Screening Tool (DST), which helps court intake staff decide which young people should be detained, pending a detention hearing.

Used together, the updated IDA and DST can be a road map for long‐term success by improving public safety (by only detaining youth as needed) and increasing prosocial behavior change through appropriately informed case planning. Newly developed committees are working on standardizing policies and practices and ensuring the quality and effectiveness of Iowa services for youth. To ensure long‐term success with both the IDA and DST, CJI is assisting in the development of a quality assurance and inter‐rater reliability process to support the successful and ongoing rollout of each tool.

With many changes and moving parts, cross‐agency coordination and communication will be needed to make this an effective transition; thanks to regular collaboration across Iowa, inter‐branch communication already is, and continues to be, a strength.

In addition to improving outcomes for young people, Iowa’s changes will help staff working in the juvenile justice system. Specifically, the changes will help staff find their decision‐making better grounded in data and research to better match youth with needed treatment and services. When kids get the right services and interventions to get them on a path to success, everybody in the state benefits.

Each county in Tennessee operates its own county court; however, following the passage of legislative improvements in juvenile justice, courts across the state are now striving for greater consistency in the handling of juvenile cases. The legislative improvements passed in May 2018 require more accountability and oversight measures, including that state leaders develop:

  • A plan to effectuate comprehensive, accurate collection of data and performance measures from all juvenile courts in the state; and
  • Uniform definitions and criteria for data collection to ensure clear and consistent reporting across all agencies and counties.

In addition, a new juvenile justice implementation council will meet over the next several months to review statewide implementation progress thus far with respect to a 2018 juvenile justice reform bill, including reviewing the progress towards more uniform and consistent data collection and identifying the areas in need of focus across the state. CJI will partner with the implementation council and other identified stakeholders to assess and recommend best practices, as well as assist with the standardization and improvement of statewide juvenile justice-related data collection.

While Tennessee strives to centralize data collection operations and provide implementation oversight, some counties have started implementing tools and practices that may be a resource for other counties in the future. CJI is currently supporting Davidson County’s Juvenile Court (DCJC) as they implement evidence-based practices – proven to reduce recidivism – within their court system. This includes improvements to the intake process, assessments, and probation services.  DCJC’s main goal is to improve evidence-based practices to decrease unnecessary court contact for low-risk youth, while simultaneously improving services for moderate- and high-risk youth. Before CJI’s support, DCJC developed a detention risk assessment intended to screen youth for temporary holding while their next court hearing is pending. CJI is now helping DCJC implement the tool by assisting with the development of policies and procedures, training staff, and preparing for validation of the tool.

Tennessee’s reform efforts and implementation council will begin to bridge the gaps and provide support and guidance as the state aims for uniformity across their 98 juvenile courts.