The Hampden County District Attorney’s Office (HCDA) could improve the administration of its Juvenile Diversion Program. According to the HCDA Juvenile Diversion Program Criteria, Policies, and Procedures, the program’s goal is “to offer intervention at an early stage to first-time juvenile offenders to decrease the likelihood that the juvenile will commit further offenses.” However, HCDA officials told us that HCDA has not set up a process to identify, collect, and evaluate relevant program data to determine whether this goal is met. As a result, HCDA is limited in its ability to assess the effectiveness of this program and determine whether any changes to the program are necessary.
Models for Change is a multistate initiative focused on promoting the advancement of juvenile justice reform, funded by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. Models for Change has its own juvenile diversion workgroup that has prepared a Juvenile Diversion Guidebook, which provides guidance to agencies developing juvenile diversion programs. In the section titled Outcome Evaluation, the guidebook documents an example of the type of data agencies should collect and how to evaluate the data. The example provided specifically states that an agency could “[collect] recidivism data on each youth during some period of time after they have completed the diversion program, and then [compare] it to recidivism data of similar youth (e.g., types of offense) in the community in past years.”
The Urban Institute, a 50-year-old nonprofit organization that researches social and economic policy, issued a report titled “Improving Recidivism as a Performance Measure.” The report states,
Ongoing data collection and analysis is necessary for any performance measure. Without year-to-year data, policymakers are unable to draw conclusions about the effectiveness of government agencies or the programs they implement.
The Juvenile Diversion Guidebook also states,
Every diversion program should have a way to determine whether it is meeting its goals and objectives. Program evaluation is important for many reasons. One of its greatest values is to determine the need for program adjustments over time. Good program evaluations not only indicate whether objectives are being met, but also identify when, why, and for whom they are not.
Although HCDA is not required to follow these criteria, they can be considered best practices that HCDA should consider adopting.
Reasons for Issues
HCDA officials told us that the Juvenile Diversion Program did not have the resources necessary to collect and analyze program data, that HCDA was not sure what data to collect that would improve the program, and that the Juvenile Diversion Program’s goal was not designed to be quantitatively measured. However, in the Office of the State Auditor’s (OSA’s) opinion, data such as information on recidivism could be collected and analyzed with minimal additional staff resources to determine the program’s effectiveness in meeting the goal of decreasing the likelihood that juveniles will commit further offenses.
- HCDA should identify the relevant information that could be used to assess the effectiveness of its Juvenile Diversion Program, establish a formal process to collect and evaluate this information, and use it to make any necessary program enhancements.
- HCDA should identify existing resources that could be allocated to these activities and/or, if necessary, request additional funding from the Legislature for this purpose.
The life of a juvenile is too fluid to extrapolate any discernible correlation between successfully completing a diversion program and a future violation of the law. Variables such as changes in a home environment, school, or peer group can have substantial influences on a child’s life after their involvement in a diversion program is over. Therefore, once the child has completed our diversion program successfully, there is no way of determining what factors influenced his or her return to the criminal justice system. Each child and each case would be different as each situation that a juvenile finds himself in is unique based upon the previously listed variables. The type of recidivism evaluation contemplated by the audit recommendation is not reasonable nor would it provide evidence based information for adjusting the framework of the primary diversion program. The audit does not provide any guidance as to what type of data to gather, when it should be gathered, or how the data can be linked to the success or failure of the diversion program. It would require gathering data that is not in the Commonwealth’s possession, custody or control, and require a juvenile, who would be a defendant with Constitutional rights, to cooperate with the evaluation. Simply comparing one new offense to a previous offense cannot provide any discernable correlation as to what “should” or “could” have been done differently in the diversion program without looking at all the substantial variables.
The goal as stated in the Hampden District Attorney’s office for its Diversion Program was drafted with the notion of intending to protect the community and diverting a juvenile who is on the verge of entering the criminal justice system by providing them some core principals of remediation. There was no discernible measurable aspect to this goal, other than whether a juvenile successfully completed the program or not, which . . . data is collected along with other pertinent time related information.
Specifically, the goal, similar to the direction that most noticeably is themed in the recent criminal justice reform legislation, is to avoid juveniles from entering the criminal justice system at all, but, if they do, having the tools necessary to divert them from the criminal justice system or convert low level cases from delinquent/criminal matters to civil/adjudicated disposition. The new reform legislation specifically allowed for the use of expanding court diversion, allowing for restorative justice programs, and statutorily recognizing [District Attorney] diversion programs, which have no restrictions. The new legislation states “A district Attorney may divert any child for who there is probable cause to issue a complaint . . . , with or without the permission of the court. . . .” See section 75 of chapter 69 of the Acts of 2018 amending c. 119 section 54A(d). If the legislature wanted diversion programs by the [District Attorneys’] offices to be “evidenced” based which would mean looking to recidivism as a bench mark, they would have addressed that and mandated such a requirement. But the truly measurable outcome is whether a particular juvenile was able to successfully complete a reasonable [District Attorney] diversion program and not penetrate into the criminal justice system at all. Measurable and meaningful retrospective of whether a diversion program is successful is the youth’s successful completion of the program. This information is currently collected as part of our statistical data.
This office has assessed the effectiveness of our Juvenile Diversion program and made adjustments and improvements on an ongoing basis which is the suggested purpose for collecting recidivism data. When it was determined that some juveniles were not completing a specific program because of transportation issues, adjustments were made in the diversion requirements to allow the juveniles to continue diversion and avoid noncompliance. Collecting percentages through an arbitrary process of program evaluation would not be a measure of the program’s success or failure. The development of a diversion program that can adapt to changes that take place in the juvenile’s family, school and community environments in an effort to provide the juvenile with what is necessary for him or her to complete the program is the true measure of success. The core of our diversion program is to help young people avoid entering the criminal justice system and our approach of individualizing the requirements to each juvenile is a more successful approach to program completion than an arbitrary formulaic data collection analysis for recidivism.
OSA recognizes that there can be many factors that could affect whether a juvenile offender ultimately returns to the juvenile justice system after completing the Juvenile Diversion Program. However, as noted above, HCDA’s stated goal for this program is “to offer intervention at an early stage to first-time juvenile offenders to decrease the likelihood that the juvenile will commit further offenses,” not just to give a juvenile offender an opportunity for remediation. Therefore, in OSA’s opinion, HCDA should measure to what extent this program is meeting this goal. Although the rate at which participants reoffend is only one metric, it does provide some understanding of the impact the program has on participants.
OSA does not agree with HCDA that collecting and analyzing recidivism data and other relevant data is not reasonable and would not provide evidence-based information that would be useful in making improvements to the program. We understand that there are limits on how recidivism information should be interpreted; however, we believe that HCDA should consider aligning itself with national standards and ensuring that the program is designed to reduce recidivism for program participants by measuring to what extent this is being achieved. In OSA’s opinion, this more long-term focus may provide a greater benefit to juvenile offenders by better ensuring that they do not reoffend, which would also reduce incarceration costs and have a more significant impact on public safety. In addition, determining to what extent the goals of a program are being met is a key component of proper program administration, and in the case of the Juvenile Diversion Program, OSA believes it is essential in providing the Legislature and the public with transparency regarding program participation, outcomes, and overall impact. In its response, HCDA acknowledges the benefit of collecting and analyzing program data in order to make necessary programmatic changes when it describes how it collected data on why some juveniles did not complete a specific program and then took actions to address this problem.
Our audit did provide guidance on measuring HCDA’s goal. In the Authoritative Guidance section, we detailed how the Juvenile Diversion Guidebook published by the Models for Change initiative suggested that recidivism data be compiled. The guidebook documents an example of the type of data agencies could collect, as well as how to evaluate the data. The example provided specifically states that an agency could “[collect] recidivism data on each youth during some period of time after they have completed the diversion program, and then [compare] it to recidivism data of similar youth (e.g., types of offense) in the community in past years.”
Finally, we acknowledge that assessing recidivism in relation to juvenile diversion programs is not a specific requirement of the most recent criminal justice reform legislation. However, most publicly available information on diversion programs on both a state and a national level indicates that one of the primary goals of this type of program is to reduce recidivism.1Therefore, we believe that HCDA should consider implementing this practice.
|Date published:||September 13, 2018|