In tight economic times, many states and agencies are forced to examine their budgets and prioritize funding in ways that maximize the effect of each dollar. Others seek reform after concluding that years of service and millions of dollars have not achieved the desired outcomes. Regardless of their path to reform, states and counties across the country are beginning to examine services offered through their juvenile justice systems, and those examinations are increasingly leading to the conclusion that incarceration of juveniles is not cost effective – or effective at all.
The challenge facing reformers lies in the selection of services to replace the existing strategies. Many choose a program and mistakenly measure success by simply noting a reduction in incarcerations or a reduction in expenditure. While this may seem logical, it simply shows that the system has decided not to confine juveniles, though they may still be committing crimes. The measure of cost effectiveness must examine the combination of crimes committed and the cost of the service, rather than simply a tally of how the system responds.
There are several systems actively involved in reform. Nebraska, Missouri and South Carolina are examples of states seeking other services in place of incarcerating young offender. The Positive Youth Justice Initiative in California is a $4.5 million investment in reforming services in four counties that will likely inform the Committee on Justice Reinvestment established by the California Assembly to help youth and families. Fortunately, there are examples of effective reform to emulate. Florida’s Redirection Program used evidence-based services to significantly reduce felony arrests while saving $51.2 million in five years. Connecticut and several other states have also successfully reduced juvenile crime at a significant cost savings by implementing evidence- based treatment models.
Policy makers seeking reform may easily become mired in programs touting their research and evidence to capitalize on the current push. To provide clarity, Blueprints for Healthy Youth Development, an initiative out of the University of Colorado, has applied rigorous research standards in evaluating over 1,100 programs with a small number meeting the criteria to be designated as a model or a promising program. Representatives from these programs will be available to provide information and guidance at the Blueprints Conference from April 14-16, 2014, in Denver, Colorado. With the selection of programs narrowed to those proven effective, the conference provides a unique opportunity for those interested in reform to learn from researchers, model developers, advocates and policy makers. Exposure to the latest information and networking, with leaders in the field, is an efficient path for policy makers and advocates in launching quality reforms in their systems.
As an example of what to expect, Bill Baccaglini, president and ceo of The New York Foundling, will give a keynote address. Mr. Baccaglini has worked with city and state officials to implement evidenced-based practices in The Foundling's programs, increasing their effectiveness at a significant savings for taxpayers. This move to evidence based practices has enhanced The Foundling's role as an industry leader. You know what they say, if you can do it in New York, you can do it anywhere.