Juvenile Justice Reform and Reinvestment Initiative
The Juvenile Justice Reform and Reinvestment Initiative (JJRRI) is a three-year demonstration program funded by the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention that aims to reduce recidivism and enhance cost effectiveness by improving existing services for youth in the justice system. With training and technical assistance provided by CJJR and Vanderbilt University, service providers in each demonstration site implement the Standardized Program Evaluation Protocol (SPEP) to assess and improve their existing programs for youth in the justice system.
This initiative will support a groundbreaking shift in how juvenile justice systems operate and how those systems achieve their mission in a cost efficient and effective manner while building on their current service delivery model. CJJR works with stakeholders in each site to engage them in implementation of the SPEP, to ensure consistent use of risk and needs assessment instruments in decision-making, and to develop sustainability strategies that will support continued use of the SPEP once grant funding concludes.
The following three states are implementing the JJRRI:
High recidivism rates in the juvenile justice system have long been viewed as intractable. Over the past several years, much attention has been given to evidence-based practice as an effective approach to reducing recidivism. Resources such as the Blueprints for Violence Prevention have shown the juvenile justice field which programs have been effective in reducing recidivism. While this knowledge has greatly benefited the field, a practical but comprehensive approach is necessary to ensure that juvenile justice agencies are operating in a research-informed and cost effective way.
For maximum positive impact, the juvenile justice system should operate on a coordinated evidence-based platform across the juvenile justice continuum. All juvenile programs, whether developed through a grassroots effort or a brand name protocol, should be measured, monitored for effectiveness and retained if shown to produce positive results. On the other hand, programs not producing positive results should be provided with an opportunity to improve.
There are two main elements of the JJRRI: (1) implementation of the SPEP with its recommended program and system reforms, and (2) evaluation and cost-benefit analysis of this work. Each is described below:
The cornerstone of the JJRRI is the implementation of a practical “ground up” solution to the challenges of local and state juvenile justice service quality. Developed by Dr. Mark Lipsey of Vanderbilt University’s Peabody Research Institute, the SPEP is based on his meta-analysis made up of over 500 controlled studies of interventions with juvenile offenders. Use of the SPEP provides specific research-based profiles of program characteristics that can be used both as a standard against which to evaluate juvenile justice programs and as a roadmap for improving them. The core tasks related to SPEP implementation include: installation, two rounds of scoring, and training.
If a program, via its SPEP score, is found to function at a lower level than expected, the SPEP tool allows the user to easily identify specific areas within which individual programs or services can be modified to improve scores. Juvenile justice administrators and treatment providers can then make improvements in service delivery without abandoning their existing service model.
Program improvement-related activities may involve developing a clear handbook; additional, more directed staff training; changing the length of treatment available; etc. This aspect of SPEP work will also include meeting with providers to discuss improvement plans and sustainability.
To institutionalize and maximize the utility of the SPEP, the JJRRI seeks to align the SPEP with a site’s juvenile justice system’s practices and policies. System alignment related activities might include:
- Engaging various system stakeholders in the implementation of the SPEP.
- Ensuring the consistent use and institutionalization of risk and needs assessment instruments.
- Identifying service gaps by reviewing the alignment of a site’s service array, SPEP ratings of effectiveness, and the distribution of offender risk and needs.
- Developing dispositional guidelines that use risk assessment information to ensure the optimal placement of youth and improve recidivism outcomes.
- Reviewing current juvenile service selection to ensure the appropriate matching of services to risk/need on an ongoing basis.
- Aligning the SPEP with existing quality assurance processes.
- Developing scale-up and sustainability strategies.
(2) Evaluation and Cost-Benefit Analysis
The Urban Institute – a nonprofit, nonpartisan research organization in Washington, DC – is conducting a 36-month process and outcome evaluation of JJRRI and its use of the SPEP. The goals of the evaluation are to understand whether the JJRRI demonstration project is successful and how it could be replicated.
A technical assistance (TA) implementation team initially works with each site to develop an Action Plan to guide them in the implementation of the JJRRI and to support the overall project. There are monthly calls between the TA Implementation Team and each site to check in on progress, identify technical assistance needs, and brainstorm solutions to challenges.
The TA implementation team also participates in on-site meetings annually with each site’s implementation team to engage advocates and executive stakeholders to support sustainability and statewide expansion. The TA implementation team, particularly CJJR, also leads cluster calls six times a year to bring all of the JJRRI site implementation teams together to create an opportunity for peer-to-peer learning. Consultants of the JJRRI are as follows:
- Shay Bilchik, J.D., Director, Center for Juvenile Justice Reform, Georgetown University at the McCourt School of Public Policy
- Cathy Conly, Program Manager, Center for Juvenile Justice Reform, Georgetown University at the McCourt School of Public Policy
- Mark Lipsey, Ph.D., Director Peabody Research Institute,Vanderbilt University
- Gabrielle Chapman, Ph.D. Research Associate, Peabody Research Institute, Vanderbilt University
- Deanna Meador, Program Manager, Peabody Research Institute, Vanderbilt University
- Darin Carver, Clinical Practice Administrator, Weber Human Services
- Improved SPEP scores as a result of program improvement plans,
- Improved matching of youth to services based on assessed risk/need,
- The development of practices and policies linking SPEP scores and cost data to system-level decision making, and
- Increased cost effectiveness and efficiency.
The expected long-term outcomes include:
- Decreased recidivism rates,
- Improved cost effectiveness of juvenile justice services, and
- The reduction in public costs