THE HONORABLE DEBORAH J. DANIELS
ASSISTANT ATTORNEY GENERAL
OFFICE OF JUSTICE PROGRAMS
NATIONAL COUNCIL OF JUVENILE AND
FAMILY COURT JUDGES
67TH ANNUAL CONFERENCE
WEDNESDAY, JULY 21, 2004
Thank you. I'm so pleased to have the opportunity to address this esteemed assembly of judges and court service professionals. The Office of Justice Programs and the National Council boast a long and distinguished history of working together. For more than 30 years, OJP and its predecessor agencies have supported the Council's often groundbreaking work in the field of juvenile justice, as well as partnering on domestic violence issues.
This nation has made tremendous progress in reducing crime and delinquency over the last two decades, thanks in great part to the Council's efforts. When I first served as a local prosecutor in Indiana 25 years ago, the prevailing approach toward delinquent youth was essentially to ignore them until their offenses escalated to the point when they caused some irreparable harm.
Few prosecutors, defense attorneys, or judges wanted to work in the juvenile court system; it was viewed by many as a Siberia post, rather than the place in which caring lawyers, judges, and probation officers can truly make a difference in young lives.
And few people fully appreciated the fact that abused kids and juvenile offenders are often the same people - entering the system one day as an abuse victim, and the next day as a delinquent. There was little understanding of the cycle of violence, the link between abuse and later criminal activity - and, at that time, no empirical proof that it existed.
Fortunately, all this has changed.
Perhaps it was primarily the significant spike in juvenile arrests and violent crime beginning in the mid 1980s and continuing through the early 90s that prompted the justice system to consider that link more seriously. Courts had limited options for dealing with this growing population of violent and delinquent youth, having to fall back on either traditional probation or secure care placement, responses that were largely ineffective in reducing recidivism among violent youth.
I think that during this time period, two additional things occurred: first, we saw some significant advances in the wealth of knowledge contributed by researchers on delinquency and delinquency prevention. And second, we saw judges taking the bench who cared enough to try to steer errant young people toward a brighter future.
Now we have evolved to a much more enlightened philosophy, one that recognizes the futility of blanket responses to juvenile crime and acknowledges the benefit of tailored approaches to delinquent youth. The Council has been in the vanguard of this movement, helping to bridge the gap between research and practice. And its efforts are greatly responsible for changing the way we feel about young offenders and the way we talk about juvenile crime.
So what is the product of this evolved thinking, and what are we doing to promote it? I think that perhaps the most important element is the shift in focus to early intervention. Traditional sanctions have focused on detaining, supervising, and institutionalizing high-risk offenders. The problem with this approach is two-fold. One, increasingly crowded facilities and the high costs of placement and probation simply do not allow us to accommodate the number of youthful offenders that come into the system. In 1999, the last year for which we have data on juvenile corrections, 134 thousand juveniles were held in residential placement or in adult jails and prisons. And in 2000, 659 thousand delinquency cases resulted in terms of probation.
The second part of the problem is the high rate of failure of these approaches among higher risk youth. Research indicates that recidivism rates within the first year of probation routinely exceed 60 percent.
In addition, some enlightened people who had long felt like voices crying in the wilderness have now been embraced as prophets. They suggested - and research supported their suggestion - that it is possible to identify potentially chronic offenders early and to intervene successfully at an earlier point in their careers - even before those delinquent careers begin.
So we wisely moved away from a monolithic approach to one that relies on graduated sanctions. And, as a society, we have recognized that sufficiently early intervention can keep many young people from entering the system at all.
Graduated sanctions comprise a continuum that must necessarily vary in profile from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. But generally, it involves the same broad range of sanctions, from community service, restitution, and curfew restrictions for first-time, non-violent offenders; to an intermediate level of supervision and monitoring, including day treatment, electronic monitoring, and house arrest; to secure care placement for the most serious offenders.
What gives this approach such promise is that it calls for a clear assessment of risk and need, it allows for competency development while helping to ensure community safety, and it expands the universe of involvement to include a host of community players - from court personnel to faith-based services to families.
Is the approach working? From a researcher's standpoint, it's still too early to tell conclusively. But the dramatic recent decline in juvenile arrest rates is notable. In the past 10 years, the juvenile arrest rate for violent crimes fell 44 percent.
One can point to numerous successes at each level of the continuum. For example, Big Brothers and Big Sisters provides volunteer mentoring to youth, facilitating developmentally appropriate activities between mentor and mentee. An evaluation found that kids involved in the program were 46 percent less likely to use illegal drugs and 27 percent less likely to use alcohol than other young people. It also found that young people with a mentor were one-third less likely to act out aggressively with others and were truant about half as often as other youth.
Even earlier in the continuum, a rigorous, 20-year longitudinal study of the Nurse Family Partnership Program, created by Dr. David Olds of the University of Colorado, demonstrated that pre-natal visits by home nurses to young mothers, continuing until the child reached age two, had astonishingly ameliorative effects on both child and mother. For the mother, we saw less likelihood of drug abuse and child abuse. For the children, we saw a greatly reduced likelihood of drug use and other delinquent behavior when they reached their teen years.
The Bethesda Day Treatment Center in West Milton, Pennsylvania provides a good example of success in the mid-range of sanctions. The Center offers an array of intervention options for youth age 12 to 17 who are discharged from institutions or other placements, including treatment foster care, alternative education, and intensive community-based intervention. A preliminary analysis reported a recidivism rate of only five percent in the first year after discharge.
And the Juvenile Electronic Monitoring Project in upstate New York exhibits that approach's value from an economic standpoint. Estimates of cost savings from this institutional placement alternative range from 97 thousand to 110 thousand dollars.
You'll notice that we at OJP are increasingly focused on outcome measurement and rigorous evaluation. It is critical that we determine which interventions really make a positive difference; which don't help; and, as importantly, which have a negative impact. We are working to share that information with you, through a "What Works" web site we're developing. And we continue to fund scientific efforts to identify effective interventions.
We are seeing positive results from the multi-level, multi-disciplinary, individually tailored, accountability-based approach to delinquency and prevention thereof. And we are partnering with the National Council to further its effectiveness. Three years ago, we entered into a cooperative agreement with the Council to establish the Juvenile Sanctions Center. The Center's goal is to improve accountability-based sanctioning programs by providing technical assistance to communities across the country. The Center has selected 13 demonstration sites to receive this assistance, and is developing a small library of training, implementation, and assessment publications. And I'm happy to announce that today we awarded the Council a 400 thousand dollar supplement to continue the project into its fourth year.
I believe this initiative will complement other joint OJP and National Council efforts, in particular, the development of a set of national guidelines for improving court practice in juvenile delinquency cases. Those guidelines are in draft form at present and are due for release in May of next year. I'd like to thank Mary Mentaberry, the director of the Council's Permanency Planning for Children Department, for her leadership on that project.
Another variant of our evolved approach to juvenile crime is the youth court. In youth courts, adolescent boys and girls assume the roles in the courtroom - from jury to prosecuting and defense attorneys to judge. The purpose is to provide for first-time, non-violent offenders a diversion away from formal and costly judicial proceedings, while at the same time providing constructive consequences for criminal behavior.
The process is a youth-driven, voluntary alternative to court, but it is by no means a mock proceeding. It receives referrals for offenses such as shoplifting, vandalism, trespassing, public drunkenness, even second-degree assault, and the sanctions imposed by teens on their offending peers are serious. Community service, educational workshops, and damage repair are among the types of sentences imposed.
Youth courts offer a number of benefits for those directly involved. They teach young people respect for the law. They help offenders understand the impact of their actions on others. They provide a built-in education in civics. And they offer a rare opportunity at an early developmental stage to experience making a difference for others.
Are youth courts making a difference? They certainly appear to be. Two years ago, OJP and the Urban Institute released the results of the first National Youth Court Evaluation. It showed that in Alaska, offenders who participated in the youth court program were re-referred to the juvenile justice system in only six percent of cases, compared with 23 percent of those handled by the juvenile justice system.
In Arizona, nine percent of youth court cases recidivated versus 15 percent in the comparison group.
And in Missouri, the recidivism rate was nine percent for youth court participants and 27 percent for those who came out of the traditional system.
An important aspect of this evolution in thought about juvenile justice is the active involvement of the community in decisions that affect delinquent youth. I believe that the idea of community responsibility is particularly relevant to juvenile justice, if only because the need for nurturing good behavior is so much greater with the young. We often talk of stakeholders in our efforts to fight crime and delinquency. Well, no one has more at stake than those who live and work in the neighborhoods where offenders reside.
Juvenile justice practitioners have recognized this reality and have welcomed community players to the table. Now, decisions once made solely by judges, attorneys, and perhaps the occasional treatment professional are informed by teachers, school officials, service providers, faith-based personnel, members of the community, and even families.
All of us in the justice system have come to realize that this broad universe is essential if what we really want to do is not just process cases, but actually prevent future delinquency and crime. I'm delighted to see that this "none of us can do it alone" view is the subject of your closing plenary session this afternoon.
Juvenile drug courts, for example, look beyond uniform treatment approaches to competence and confidence building services such as family therapy, literacy skills development, and vocational training, which depend on resources outside the mainstream juvenile justice system. By adding to this mix a more intensive supervision over drug-involved youth, drug courts have demonstrated success in de-escalating illicit substance use.
The juvenile gun court provides another model of community-dependent intervention. Gun courts involve those who live with or respond to the consequences of gun use, including trauma surgeons, ex-offenders, and victims and their families, and enlist them in a program of short-term, intensive service delivery. One such program, the Jefferson County, Alabama gun court, which is part of that county's family court, has been shown to significantly reduce recidivism - a rate of 17 percent for those under intensive supervision versus 40 percent in a comparison group.
Reentry programs and reentry courts represent yet another community-backed strategy for serving offending youth. An estimated 100 thousand juveniles are released from secure and residential facilities every year and returned to communities. If the rates of recidivism for adults offer any clue to those for juveniles, a high percentage of that population will re-offend - and soon - unless appropriate interventions are applied, including education, drug and mental health treatment, and job and life skills beginning in correctional facilities, and continuing with additional services and supervision once they are released.
OJP is helping to promote this strategy through a broadly collaborative Reentry Initiative, which engages multiple federal agencies, assisting communities to reintegrate both adult and juvenile offenders. Though we see training and capacity building as OJP's primary role, we have provided funding, in collaboration with the Departments of Labor, HHS, and HUD, to 100 adult and juvenile reentry projects throughout the country. These projects bring together disciplines that are not accustomed to working together, but all of which have significant roles to play in an offender's rehabilitation - and must collaborate in order to succeed.
And an enhancement of our efforts, announced by President Bush in this year's State of the Union address, will add 300 million dollars over the next four years to focus more resources on the job training and housing aspects of re-entry - and will greatly expand the role of the faith-based community in mentoring these young lives - helping them to change their hearts, the first step in changing their ways.
I believe that this movement toward greater community involvement is critical to our effectiveness, and will significantly change the way we think and act with regard to crime and delinquency.
But perhaps the major achievement of this evolutionary trend in the way we think about juvenile justice can be found in a new attitude toward delinquent youth. No longer do we ignore the early warning signs of future violent and criminal behavior. No longer do we brush off the needs and wishes, the cries for help, of juvenile offenders. And no longer do we treat the juvenile justice system as a surrogate parent.
Apathy and hostility have been replaced by compassion and respect. And civic languor has given way to societal action. You are at the forefront of that action, leading the way; and we at the Department of Justice are privileged to partner with you on this journey. Attorney General Ashcroft has frequently said that children make up only 25 percent of our population, but they make up 100 percent of our future. Your work will ensure that that future is a bright one.