Improving Public Safety and Youth Outcomes through Juvenile Assessment and Service Centers

Press Release
Press Release

City leaders can improve public safety and outcomes for youth by promoting practices that hold youth accountable for wrongdoing in a way that is developmentally appropriate and fair.  To advance these goals, cities are taking advantage of their unique opportunity to stop young people at the front door of the juvenile court and divert them to community-based services. 

For youth accused of status offenses, like truancy and misdemeanors, diversion away from arrest and prosecution and into community-based services is a better use of scarce resources and is more effective at improving public safety over the long-term.  Juvenile Assessment and Service Centers (JASC) in several cities have emerged as a successful diversion tool.

Getting Started on a Juvenile Assessment and Service Center

Existing examples of JASCs differ, but the core of the model is consistent. Police, schools or community members bring youth accused of wrongdoing to the JASC instead of taking them to juvenile court. Trained, non-court staff then assesses the young person, refer him/her to services in the community and provide follow up support if needed.

In addition to reviewing existing models, cities considering a JASC would benefit from review of the Juvenile Diversion Guidebook.  The Guidebook was developed through the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation’s Models for Change initiative and is a comprehensive guide for any effort to divert youth from juvenile court.

When designing a JASC that meets a city’s needs, city leaders should consider input from diverse stakeholders and local data. For a JASC planning group, stakeholders should include:

  • relevant offices within the mayor’s administration;
  • all local law enforcement agencies;
  • county- or state-based juvenile court and probation agencies;
  • youth at risk of juvenile system involvement; and
  • their families.  

Additional partners may be city legislators and their staff, community-based youth service providers, the faith community, the local prosecutor, indigent defense agencies, the local school district, local social service agencies that address the needs of families and children, or mental health service providers.

In some localities, city and county governments, plus school districts, share the services of and responsibility for a JASC through Joint Powers Agreements. The Juvenile Supervision Center (“JSC”) in Minneapolis, Minn., is one such example. The original city representatives on the JSC’s work team include a representative from each of three offices: the Mayor’s office, the Neighborhood Services office and the Police Department.

Local Law Enforcement’s Role with JASCs

As first responders who most often bring youth through the front door of the juvenile justice system, local law enforcement are a key partner in the success of a city’s JASC. A city can turn youth away from any involvement in the juvenile system by giving law enforcement officers clear criteria for when youth should be taken to the JASC instead of being forwarded for prosecution.

Law enforcement also stands to benefit from a JASC in their jurisdiction. For example, police officers in Calcasieu Parish, La., are back on the street in 12 minutes after dropping a youth off at the Multi-Agency Resource Center (“MARC”). This turnaround time is much faster than the hour it typically took local police to process a youth in the past.

JASCs as a Hub for Community-Based Services

Evidence demonstrates that youth diverted to services have better outcomes than youth simply diverted away from prosecution without services. Because youth and families are different, JASCs need a diverse collection of community-based services to which they can refer young people.

Different JASCs across the country refer youth to a broad range of interventions, including:

  • parent conferences;
  • community conferencing or mediation;
  • restitution or community service;
  • tutoring;
  • mentoring;
  • referral to mental health services;
  • intensive evidence-based practices; and
  • case management.

After identifying the population of youth to be served, the stakeholder group designing a JASC should identify which services will best reach its goals with the target population. By completing a community scan, the group can then identify which of those services already exist in the community and which are needed.

These first planning steps will establish a solid foundation for a JASC. A city can improve the JASC’s outcomes by maintaining collaboration among stakeholders and continuing to make decisions based on data.

Learn More During Our Upcoming Webinar

An upcoming webinar on Monday, September 8, 2014 at 2:00 pm EST will discuss JASCs in more detail and provide lessons learned from two existing models. Chief Don Dixon from Lake Charles, La., will discuss the MARC. Additionally, Josh Peterson and Kate Tobin from Minneapolis, Minn., will share lessons learned from the JSC.

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