Academic journal article The Public Manager

Performance-Based Standards: Better Treatment for Juvenile Offenders; How National Standards Have Been Designed, Tested in the Field, and Put into Place to Generate Measurable, Best-Practice Outcomes and Solve a Widespread Problem in Corrections and Detention Facilities Nationwide

Academic journal article The Public Manager

Performance-Based Standards: Better Treatment for Juvenile Offenders; How National Standards Have Been Designed, Tested in the Field, and Put into Place to Generate Measurable, Best-Practice Outcomes and Solve a Widespread Problem in Corrections and Detention Facilities Nationwide

Article excerpt

This is a story about how this country's juvenile detention facilities once treated its young offenders and how it is increasingly treating them today. It is a very encouraging tale, and one that is still being told.

Just ten years ago, an agency of the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) surveyed almost a thousand of the country's 1,200 public and private juvenile detention and corrections centers, training schools, ranches, camps, and farms, visiting 95 of them in the process. It found problems that it labeled "substantial and widespread." The most serious were in living space, health care, security, and control of suicidal acts. DOJ's report described overcrowded facilities; high injury rates for offenders and staff; high rates of suicidal behavior; a lack of timely, professional health screenings; and insufficient, sometimes nonexistent, health care. It said these conditions were widespread and that most facilities had several such deficiencies.

What is more, the 1994 report asserted that a facility could not improve conditions for its juvenile delinquent population just through close compliance with nationally accepted standards, which emphasized conformance to process, not getting results. Instead, correction and detention agencies had to take a crucial proactive step, adopting performance-based standards that clearly stated the results they should aim to achieve.

Meanwhile, the public was getting its ideas about juvenile justice largely from inadequate, unbalanced coverage of juvenile crime by news media that tended to sensationalize the worst offenses. That helped fuel the view that juvenile delinquents needed criminal prosecution and adult prison sentences. Public irritation at the lack of accountability for the operations and costs of the justice system was also an issue. These problems made it all the harder for youth workers and people engaged in administering the system to show its positive side or call attention to the need for improvement.

1994 Report

The turnaround in this situation began with the 1994 report itself, undertaken at congressional request by the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) of DOJ's Office of Justice Programs. The report advanced a performance-based solution to the problems presented by conditions at juvenile detention and corrections facilities. It called for national performance-based standards to be designed, tested in the field, and put into place. Outcomes would be measured to track progress in meeting and maintaining them.

PbS

A year later, that vision began to materialize. A Massachusetts-based organization, the Council of Juvenile Correctional Administrators (CJCA) put in the winning bid for an OJJDP-sponsored project called "performance-based standards for juvenile corrections," or PbS. Its goal was to improve conditions of confinement nationwide with a system of monitored, goal-based standards and results measurements, giving facilities and agencies a blueprint and model for the safe, successful management of juvenile offenders in public care. PbS, a project involving the voluntary participation of youth facilities, has been described as a self-improvement and accountability system. It owes its birth in large part to the frustration of the juvenile corrections community and the public with the existing situation.

How do facilities participating in PbS measure and improve performance? Twice a year, they report data describing more than a hundred of what are called "outcomes." Outcomes are results in critical areas like injuries, time in isolation, percentages of mental health and suicide screenings, changes in academic achievement, and percentages of offenders who complete education curricula and training in life skills and behavior management. The outcomes depict the performance of these facilities against thirty standards they are trying to meet, including safety, security, order, programming, education, health and mental health, justice, and reintegration. …

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