Communities in crisis: effective juvenile justice programs involve all sectors of community.
In the alley, under the lamppost, nine or 10 young thugs emerge into view as soon as the police car turns onto the next street.
Is anyone watching those five kids in the house across the street, the ones who run around without supervision and stay out until midnight?
These are the scenes taking place daily in too many communities around the country. Juvenile crime is rampant in hundreds of communities and neighborhoods, regardless of economic or social status. Crime huns the people who are its victims and it hurts communities. But just as alienation from families, communities and a core values system contributes to juvenile delinquency, the reintegration of these youths into society will be effective only with community involvement.
The juvenile justice system cannot affect lasting, meaningful change without the full participation of all sectors of the community. Moreover, communities have a vested interest in addressing juvenile crime across the entire spectrum, from prevention programs to reintegration to aftercare.
Maryland has been working to refocus the juvenile justice system's emphasis from punishment to "restorative justice" and to construct a system of graduated sanctions that balance three important goals: public safety and community protection; offender accountability; and competency and character development. These principles define the goals for a new direction in juvenile justice services, and will become increasingly important as systems with limited resources confront rising numbers of juvenile offenders entering the system at earlier ages and for more serious offenses.
Maryland's rising juvenile arrest rate reflects a range of factors: a rising population of youths between the ages of 10 and 17, higher teenage unemployment rates, escalating numbers of single parent households, and increasingly prevalent substance abuse, drug distribution and handgun violations. As a result, during FY'98, Maryland expects more than 63,500 cases and nearly 7,300 admissions to juvenile detention facilities - a 64 percent increase in cases and a 68 percent increase in detention admissions since FY'90.
As we consider ways to combat these alarming statistics, we first must expand the role the community plays in a seamless system of swift and effective justice, from prevention programs to aftercare. The comprehensive treatment strategy for the serious, violent and chronic juvenile offender is based on the recognition that an effective service model will combine accountability and sanctions with an increasingly intensive treatment and rehabilitation modality for repeat offenders. The graduated sanctions begin with activities that occur and are monitored at the community level.
Through partnerships with federal agencies and local governments, the Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) is developing comprehensive strategies that reflect local concerns and restorative justice principles. Maryland is launching this effort in six jurisdictions across the state, based on the level of juvenile offenses in these areas and the demonstrated willingness of communities to identify community risk factors and develop prevention strategies and programs. Community members and social service and corrections agency representatives are engaging in regular dialogue with representatives of the U.S. Department of Justice to enhance partnerships and to implement certain types of interventions to validate and sustain positive relationships between at-risk juveniles and the communities in which they live.
Restorative justice depends on community members to assess harm, suggest and/or implement reparative approaches, and serve as resources for the reintegration of victims and offenders. The courts alone cannot effectively determine the degree of injury done to either victims or communities as a result of delinquent acts. Likewise, neither the courts nor juvenile authorities can adequately determine what needs to be done to mend the damage to individuals and communities. Both the victim and the offender must be guided in their efforts to return to normal lives at the local level, in their communities.
In the case of a first-time, nonviolent offender, it may be reasonable to assign sanctions that allow the young person to remain in the community where he or she can make restitution for the offense, and where progress can effectively be monitored by parents, schools, mentors and corrections professionals. Repeat offenses result in more stringent sanctions, administered swiftly and effectively.
Community cooperation is the key to successful prevention programs for juveniles. As long as the juvenile justice system concentrates the majority of its resources on responding to the serious, chronic, repeat offender, we will not stem the tide of emerging young offenders. Community-based prevention programs, mentoring activities, parenting training, and the monitoring of at-risk youths will help reduce the number of juveniles who enter the system in the first place.
Day treatment is one type of program that has received accolades. DJJ recently developed a four-day, community-based treatment program that provides intensive, comprehensive, multidisciplined services to youths at risk of removal from the home. The program focuses on education, counseling and life-skills training. Additionally, it provides drag screening and anti-drug education, a system of graduated sanctions and aftercare. Youths are involved in community service, and family involvement is essential.
Over the last 12 months, the Maryland Department of Juvenile Justice has sought to strengthen its connection with local communities, allowing for a full assessment of the ways they can meet the needs of youths. In designing and implementing a comprehensive strategy for Maryland, we have been able to capitalize on other planning efforts, including an ongoing "hotspots" initiative which is concentrating criminal and juvenile justice resources in the areas of the state with the heaviest concentration of criminal activity. This program brings together state and local police, adult and juvenile correctional workers, social service and advocacy organizations and elected officials to address the special needs of communities "under siege."
Similarly, Maryland has piloted an Operation Spotlight program in two jurisdictions, designed to reduce recidivism by focusing recidivism prevention programming and intensive supervision on serious juvenile offenders after their release from juvenile facilities. More than 2,000 youths are released from residential juvenile facilities annually and recent DJJ research indicates that more than half of these youths re-offend, endangering public safety and requiring further DJJ intervention. Operation Spotlight partners DJJ aftercare staff with local law enforcement officials and community groups who work together to "keep a spotlight" on those juveniles who are likely to re-offend.
One treatment prevention model that provides services to a targeted area is the Pioneer City Project. This family-centered program improves the psychosocial functioning of youths and their families in order to reduce the recidivism rate, as well as the disproportionate representation of minority males in the juvenile justice system.
DJJ also has identified the community of Steele Meadows as having an unusually high percentage of its population in either the juvenile or criminal justice systems. These two communities - Pioneer City and Steele Meadows - are geographically isolated and are characterized by a lack of transportation to employment opportunities and service providers. In order to address the critical issues facing these communities, the department has created an intensive, home-based, family-centered program. The target audience includes youths who are on probation from DJJ and whose family members can be characterized as dysfunctional with significant delinquency histories. The program uses a treatment modality known as multisystemic therapy, developed by Scott W. Henggler, director of the Family Services Research Center of the Medical University of South Carolina. This approach, which has proven successful in treating serious, chronic and violent juvenile offenders, impacts the social ecology of the family by intervening with the delinquent's family, school, peers and community. Therapists provide daily, home-based intervention services for the entire family for up to six months.
Another community-based model is DJJ's alliance with the East Baltimore Mental Health Partnership Program, which focuses on youths who may be suffering from severe emotional problems. Administered by Johns Hopkins Hospital, the project's goal is to intervene in the treatment of 600 adolescents in the East Baltimore area.
The Prince George's Maryland Corps Service Team (PGMAST) provides service learning opportunities for pre-delinquent and delinquent juveniles and their families. The program seeks to strengthen the ties between youths and their communities through direct service opportunities in either their own or neighboring communities under the supervision of trained AmeriCorps members. By participating in meaningful, age-appropriate services, youths gain a clear understanding of the impact their negative actions have on their communities.
One of the most intriguing aspects of community-based programming is the development of strong ties to the religious community, where many direct services are delivered to those in need. DJJ is actively pursuing the development of a strong religious task force to educate the spiritual community about the problems facing the juvenile justice system and to solicit their participation.
Among the intergovernmental partnerships Maryland has developed is the Mechanics Apprenticeship Program (MAP), in which DJJ joins forces with the Maryland State Highway Administration (SHA) and one of the state's juvenile justice vendors, Youth Services International (YSI). YSI operates the Charles H. Hickey Jr. School, which treats up to 320 young men in a secure facility. The six-month MAP curriculum is designed to enhance the trainees' skills to qualify its graduates for entry-level equipment mechanics positions.
There is a substantial positive correlation between the future success of juvenile justice programs and the extent to which we are able to include the community in all aspects of programming. We must increase our efforts to change attitudes at the local level that encourage a disdain for locating juvenile programs in the community.
Stuart O. Simms is secretary of the Maryland Department of Juvenile Justice.