On juvenile justice, we know what works

we just have to do it

February 10, 2011

As he is moving forward, Juvenile Services Secretary Sam Abed does not need to recreate the juvenile justice reform wheel ("A fresh face at DJS," Feb. 9). Reputable and successful juvenile justice programs exist within and outside the state. Nonprofits, counties, local municipalities and other entities have diversion and early intervention programs such as Community Conferencing, neighborhood youth panels, teen courts and other community programs that have successfully kept youth out of the state's juvenile justice system. Baltimore City is looking at Miami's civil citations program as a promising arrest diversion model.

Clayton County, Ga., and Birmingham, Ala., offer solutions for keeping students safely in school and addressing misbehavior in the school setting without overburdening juvenile courts. Baltimore City's Mayor's Office of Employment Development operates the Pre-Adjudication Coordination and Training (PACT) Center, a nationally recognized alternative to detention. During Gov. Martin O'Malley's first term, he prioritized evidence-based practices such as Multi-Systemic Therapy, Functional Family Therapy, and Multi-Dimensional Treatment Foster Care as alternatives to juvenile incarceration. The Missouri Division of Youth Services is known to operate the best residential programs in the country. Additionally, DJS received a substantial, competitive federal grant to initiate the Continuum of Opportunity Reentry Programs and Services (CORPS) program, a multi-faceted initiative designed to improve aftercare services for youth returning from placements to Baltimore City.

We know that community and home-based programs are most effective for youth who can remain safely in the community during their treatment process. For youth who require residential placement, we know that treating youth close to their homes, involving families and community supports in the therapeutic process, and providing seamless and effective aftercare significantly reduces future delinquency and criminal behavior. Additionally, we know that juveniles fare better when kept in the juvenile system. Maryland has a body of legislation that supports these best practices; so far, the state has stumbled on implementation.

Cost is always a factor, and that is why it is most important that the budget for DJS prioritize funding for best practices and programs that have demonstrated successful outcomes. Fiscal analysts have shown how investing dollars in opportunities and services can produce positive outcomes while simultaneously creating savings. Advocates for Children and Youth, the Maryland Budget and Tax Policy Institute and the Safe and Sound Campaign publish regular analyses on ways the state can redirect funding and improve services to Marylanders.

What are needed are identification, adoption and accurate implementation of effective programs on a larger scale around the state and budget priorities that match up with what actually works for young people. Additionally, Secretary Abed must be conscious of the inequities within our current system, particularly as it relates to disproportionate minority contacts and the plight of girls and young women, and he must be intentional in adopting solutions. If the right pieces are joined together properly, Maryland's young people, families and communities will be better off because of it, and Maryland can become the national standard for juvenile justice.

Angela Conyers Johnese, Baltimore

The writer is the juvenile justice director of Advocates for Children and Youth.

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