Recidivism is one of the most frequently requested measurements of effectiveness and accountability for juvenile justice agencies, facilities and programs. Legislators and budget officers request recidivism data to guide policy and spending decisions to ensure funding programs that prevent crime. Agency and program directors rely on recidivism measures to determine whether their agencies, programs and facilities are meeting the goals of public safety and offender rehabilitation. Juvenile justice agencies are judged successful or not based on recidivism rates that indicate the extent to which youths commit crimes after receiving juvenile justice services. Despite the many uses and demands for recidivism rates, there is no universal, standard or agreed upon recidivism measure for juvenile corrections, a fact that often leads to inappropriate comparisons of rates across agencies. Recognition of the need for common definitions and measure of recidivism arose from attempts by CJCA to facilitate discussions about the different recidivism rates reported by different juvenile correctional agencies. It quickly became obvious that directors of these state agencies were not speaking the same language they were using different decision points in the justice system to define recidivism and they were using different criteria to select cases for measurement.
Through a cooperative agreement with the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency prevention (OJJDP), the Council of Juvenile Correctional Administrators (CJCA) convened the First Annual Leadership Conference, “Measuring What Matters,” in October 2008. This conference brought together juvenile agency directors from 42 jurisdictions to advance members’ goals of reducing re-offending and increasing support for evidence-based programming by addressing the lack of national consensus on the measurement of recidivism.
CJCA President Bernard Warner created a Recidivism Committee, chaired by CJCA Vice President Barry Stoodley, to continue the important work that began at the conference. CJCA’s recently completed white paper, Defining and Measuring Recidivism, is a product of the proceedings of the Committee. During 2009 members of the Committee submitted ideas, responded to interviews and edited drafts to advance the group’s goal of reaching consensus on how to measure recidivism.
In October 2009, OJJDP funded a second all directors conference in Chicago where the directors adopted the white paper by consensus. Having achieved consensus an Implementation Subcommittee of the Recidivism Committee is being formed to develop a comprehensive implementation plan for national recidivism data gathering and measurement. Additionally, a paper on positive youth outcomes is in development.