Reflections on 20 Years’ Improving Conditions of Confinement

Posted by Kim Godfrey
January 12, 2015

It was 20 years ago the Congressionally-mandated Conditions of Confinement Study prompted the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) to launch the Performance-based Standards (PbS) project to address and improve the unsafe, too often dangerous, largely ineffective and unresponsive deep-end facilities responsible for young offenders. While many fewer youths now are placed in facilities, they remain a staple in our justice system and the approximately 70,000 youths incarcerated need and deserve our collective efforts to treat them like one of our own.

That has been PbS’ mantra since 1995: we are committed to treating all youths in custody as one of our own. It has guided us to create national standards and outcome measures that challenge juvenile justice agencies to provide the highest quality operations, programs and services and to provide the field with tools to measure and monitor their work using outcome measures and data. We have been very fortunate to have had federal support for about 11 years to the Council of Juvenile Correctional Administrators (CJCA) to develop PbS. We established an effective and meaningful data-driven improvement model strong enough to transition to a self-sustaining fee-for-service non-profit, the PbS Learning Institute in 2004, the same year PbS won the Innovations in American Government Award. We have a lot to celebrate and are planning to celebrate a lot in 2015.

We also are going to share what we have learned from our data, which is probably one of the largest, timely, uniform and comprehensive available describing conditions of confinement both from quantitative administrative data and qualitative descriptive data from surveys of youths, staff and families. PbS data looks at facility safety, order, security, education, programming, fairness, positive youth development, connection to family and community and health, mental health, substance use, trauma and reentry treatment and services. We are not a research organization but believe the aggregate PbS data is the best available showing how youths in custody are treated and describing the cultures and climates in residential placement. The data comes from about 200 facilities in 32 states who by choice join us in our commitment to treating all youths in custody as one of our own; what happens in the remaining facilities is mostly unknown, unreported and/or unverified so there is no control or comparison group. And my guess, until proven otherwise, is that PbS facilities are better places for youths.

We know from our work over the past 20 years that looking at data is the first step to positive change and reform. With all this in mind, I hope you read the first publication of our 20th year, reflecting on the most recent PbS data (October 2014): PbS Perspective.