Making a Difference in Juvenile Justice

By Wilbur, Bobbie; Murphy, Colleen et al. | Policy & Practice of Public Human Services, June 2000 | Go to article overview

Making a Difference in Juvenile Justice


Wilbur, Bobbie, Murphy, Colleen, Caulkins, Kaye, Policy & Practice of Public Human Services


Youth who enter the juvenile justice system pose a challenge to all who work with and for them. The stakes are high. If the youth's behavior is not reformed as a result of the consequences of being in the juvenile justice system, the likelihood of continuous life-long involvement in adult correctional systems is high. Over their lives, if these individuals do not change, they can exact an enormous cost on their families, victims, and communities; on overburdened law enforcement and overcrowded court and correctional systems; and on the taxpaying public.

Juvenile justice professionals have long been working to find a better answer. The public is demanding a better answer. The public's demands are clear. The juvenile justice system must achieve significant and measurable impact in preventing delinquency and reducing repeat offenders or recidivism.

Imperatives to achieve these public goals include:

* focusing consequences and treatment on the families, not just the juveniles;

* engaging the community in supporting the juveniles and their families to bring about positive change and outcomes;

* increasing consequences that are more clearly directed at helping youths understand the impact on their victims;

* enlisting the assistance of schools, social services, and mental and physical health providers in supporting the youths and their families to achieve success in their communities through changed outcomes;

* identifying and deploying resources (i.e., effort and money) for what is working; and

* eliminating efforts, programs, and services that do not work.

Although these goals are lofty, the way to meet those significant and measurable impacts on preventing delinquency and reducing recidivism is for juvenile justice professionals to have more quantifiable, relevant, and timely information. Why? Because each of the imperatives identified above requires enhanced knowledge of the youths, their families, the services they are currently receiving, and the consequences or treatment that will make a difference for them.

Yet most juvenile justice programs lack the technical system capabilities to accomplish these goals. Clark County, Nevada, and a few other jurisdictions, however, are stepping up to these demands and challenges by improving their information technology systems. They are using technology as a starting point to support knowledge transfer across the juvenile justice continuum and its intersection with other human services information systems.

THE CLARK COUNTY DIFFERENCE

Clark County, Nevada, which includes Las Vegas, has had the distinction, or plague, of being one of the fastest-growing counties in the United States for the past 10 years. Like so many human services systems, juvenile justice workers' caseloads have been increasing at such significant rates that all available financing has generally been invested in staff, programs, and, whenever possible, facilities.

Clark County administrators recognized that by asking its staff and providers to carry these increased loads, many youths and their families served may have received only a fraction of the services their situations warranted.

Unfortunately, this investment in only staff, programs, and facilities presented a case of double jeopardy. Youths and families were getting less service although their situations were more complicated. Also, Clark County administrators lacked the compelling, fact-based information to support their arguments for continued, or increased, financing of these services that could only be efficiently gathered through improved technology.

With its inadequate information systems, it was not possible for county administrators to answer the most basic questions:

* Who is this youth?

* What are the issues or problems affecting the youth?

* What other programs have served the youth or the youth's family? …

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