There are few things as comforting as knowing that every Jan. 1 we get another chance to start again – diets, exercise, relationships, school, careers, community, our contributions to society – all our desires and dreams now possible with a clean slate; the baggage of the previous year is left behind.
This is the sense of opportunity that Performance-based Standards (PbS) is working to create for youths leaving juvenile justice systems with the development of standards for juvenile reentry services and practices.
The standards, supported by the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP), are intended to provide some of the institutional structures needed to align juvenile justice with science so systems can make an enduring impact on the youths and families served. Accordingly, the first task for PbS was to synthesize and analyze the current literature in implementation science, juvenile reentry and youth development with current practices in juvenile justice and data collection to identify key indicators to measure the reentry process. It took about a year and a lot of dedication to uncover as much information as possible. Now complete, it provides PbS with a very solid foundation for developing standards that will guide reentry services so youths leave systems’ care with hope, new opportunities and support to continue on the path to becoming healthy, productive and fulfilled adults.
Some of the work to complete the task:
- Our research partners, the Vera Institute of Justice (Vera), conducted the literature review that identified and coded 173 studies looking at practices within 11 reentry domains.
- PbS and our partner the Council of Juvenile Correctional Administrators (CJCA) scanned 29 states and the District of Columbia for the prevalence of 134 specific reentry practices within the 11 domains.
- Additionally, PbS scanned for 22 of those practices not found prevalent in the jurisdiction review by looking at federal funding, national organizations and training and technical assistance centers as well as legislation.
- Separately, the research and field findings were then classified into three categories (high, moderate, little/no) for analysis and identification of practice themes to develop the standards. The classification showed both convergence and divergence in reentry research and field practices.
The side-by-side analysis confirmed that the field has begun implementing practices supported by research as well as practices not yet the subject of research but aligned with positive adolescent development. For example, the research strongly supports use of empirically-validated risk assessments and the risk-needs-responsivity approach to guide how the system responds to youths and the field scan found the practices were in use in a majority of systems reviewed – a good candidate to recommend as a standard (or two). However several practices found in many jurisdictions and supported by more general research on adolescents (such the impact of youths leaving with stable housing, mastery of life skills and job readiness and use of family handbooks and tours) were not found in the current available research and several practices supported strongly by research were found by the field scan to be only moderately implemented (interestingly, most relate to collecting, reporting and analyzing youth data: employment time, successful discharges, service matching based on risk/ needs assessment, youths’ perceptions of individual physical and emotional safety). The work ahead will be to consider all the findings with a group of juvenile justice leaders, researchers and professionals to identify what should be included in the standards, what points to a gap for future research and what practices to promote and discourage.
As we learned when developing the original standards for PbS and all new standards, outcome measures and continuous improvement model since, pilot testing as widely as possible is key to ensuring the final product is meaningful, feasible and achieves our commitment to treating all youths as one of our own.
- Written by Kim Godfrey
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