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Report Recommends New Focus for Juvenile Probation

One study found that low-risk youth put on probation were 50 percent more likely to re-offend. (Jess.xn/Twenty20)
One study found that low-risk youth put on probation were 50 percent more likely to re-offend. (Jess.xn/Twenty20)
May 10, 2018

NEW YORK — A new report says reforming probation practices for juveniles could increase their chances for success.

In the past 20 years, juvenile justice system reforms have led to far fewer young people being held in juvenile detention centers. But the report from the Annie E. Casey Foundation said little has changed in the use of probation for young people.

According to Steve Bishop, senior associate at the Casey Foundation's Juvenile Justice Strategy Group, probation is too often used as another form of punishment.

"The research we have about adolescent development is pretty convincing that young people respond better to rewards, incentives, opportunities, experiences, things like that that better motivate them than the threat of punishment,” Bishop said.

New York City has increased the share of young people diverted from court, simplified probation and implemented protocols that involve youth and their families to establish personal goals.

Jeffery Butts, director of the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, noted that young people entering the justice system already have broken some rules and are testing the community.

"The way to bring them back is to help reattach,” Butts said. “And that means showing them that they can do well in school, finding a way for them to get into the labor market, having ways for them to have fun which are not harmful."

He said low crime rates have provided an opportunity to explore new ways to help juvenile offenders, but the real test will be maintaining that momentum if there's a new crime scare.

Bishop pointed out that recent research into adolescent brain development suggests that taking juvenile justice practices in a new direction would enhance both community safety and young peoples’ futures.

"Reduce probation caseloads by diverting greater share of cases from juvenile court all together,” Bishop said; “and then, refashioning probation into a more targeted, focused, and effective intervention for the smaller population of youth that would remain on caseloads."

The report noted that smaller caseloads allow probation officers to work more intensively with families and communities to help young people thrive.

Andrea Sears, Public News Service - NY