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Building on research evidence about effective practice, the Juvenile Justice System Improvement Project (JJSIP) aims to change juvenile justice systems and practice by:

(a) implementing the Comprehensive Strategy framework and improving programs system-wide through the use of the SPEP, and

(b) leveraging information about juvenile offenders derived from risk and needs assessments to assist juvenile justice systems and providers in better targeting those needs and risks.

The improved targeting of risk and needs, improved services in which youth are involved and the establishment of supportive systems changes should lead to the following primary and secondary outcomes:

Intended Short-Term Outcomes

Reduced recidivism rates of juvenile offenders. The JJSIP embeds the SPEP within the Comprehensive Strategy framework. The SPEP facilitates evaluation of the expected effectiveness of available services and guides their improvement. The Comprehensive Strategy prompts states to better target a youth's risk and needs in service provision. When a youth's needs and risk level are targeted through the provision of effective services, juvenile offenders should receive higher-quality and more appropriate services that have a better chance of preventing future delinquency. Indeed, prior studies have shown that higher scores on the SPEP correlate with reduced recidivism rates.

Reduced use of detention, institutionalization and other forms of out of home placement, particularly for lower risk juvenile offenders. A major tenet of the JJSIP is that placement and service decisions should be made with regard to the needs and risks of the youth in question. Since the JJSIP helps states strengthen their structured decision making tools, such as risk assessments, youth in the selected states will only be sent to detention, a secure corrections facility or other out of home placement if their risk level requires such a placement. This will reduce the number of lower risk youth from unnecessarily being detained, incarcerated or otherwise removed from a family setting. Additionally, the JJSIP will strengthen services that can be used as alternatives to detention, incarceration and out of home placement, and therefore provide feasible home and community based alternatives for moderate and some high risk youth. Lastly, since more effective services will be provided through the JJSIP, fewer youth will recidivate, and therefore, there will be a decreased demand for detention and secure facilities. As a result, we expect that the number of admissions and lengths of stay at detention, secure corrections facilities and other out of home placements will decrease after implementation of the JJSIP.

Intended Long-Term Outcomes

Reduced racial and ethnic disparities and disproportionality in juvenile justice processing. The use of structured decision making tools such as risk and needs assessments has the potential to reduce racial and ethnic disproportionality. Since the JJSIP embeds the use of these objective tools in its intervention, it is expected that disparate treatment and the resulting disproportionality will decrease as a result when these tools are used with high fidelity.

Increased probation completion rates among juvenile offenders. Since the JJSIP will help sites deliver more effective services to youth in their care, it is expected that probation completion rates will improve since more youth will be receiving services that adequately address their needs.

More efficient use of resources. The cost per juvenile processed in the juvenile justice system is largely a function of the cost of the sanctions applied (incarceration being the most expensive), the cost of the services provided, and the cost of handling the juvenile again if he/she recidivates. The JJSIP will seek to guide optimal resource allocation for optimal outcomes. It is expected that the JJSIP will result in substantial cost savings in each of the jurisdictions.

Decreased school dropout, increased school attendance, increased stability of school placement and increased school performance among juvenile offenders. By providing more effective services, it is expected that the needs of the program youth will be addressed, including their educational needs. Also, since it has been shown that a lack of attachment to school can be a risk factor for delinquency, it is expected that an improvement in school related outcomes will contribute to the reduced recidivism rates expected from the JJSIP intervention. Additionally, since the JJSIP encourages sites to reserve institutionalization for higher risk youth, more services will be provided in the community, where youth can stay connected to their home school.

Reduced mental health symptoms and substance abuse among juvenile offenders. Many juvenile offenders have clinical-level mental health symptoms (e.g., conduct disorder, depression, PTSD from exposure to violence, etc.) and substance use disorders. Indeed, many of these are criminogenic risk factors related to the juveniles' delinquency. Moreover, many of the treatment programs that are effective for reducing recidivism also have positive effects on these other outcomes, especially if information from needs assessment tools is used by treatment providers to target the particular needs of the juveniles.

An evaluation of the program will be completed to measure the effectiveness of the training and technical assistance in changing practices and policies that impact these outcomes. The evaluation will describe the training and TA activities of the JJSIP and measure the implementation activities (outputs) that result from these interventions in the demonstration sites. This will require phone calls and a limited number of in-person meetings with the evaluation team. Participating states are expected to use their existing data to measure the extent to which improved youth outcomes are realized.

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