HD43 - Evaluation of the Richmond City Continuum of Juvenile Justice Services Pilot Program

Executive Summary:
In 1994, the General Assembly authorized funding for the development and implementation of new community-based programs and services for adjudicated juveniles in the City of Richmond. The new programs and services augmented the existing system, creating a wider range of sentencing options called the Richmond City Continuum of Juvenile Justice Services. The Continuum primarily strives to hold juvenile offenders accountable with appropriate sanctions, provide a diverse range of services, and retain offenders in the community. Implementation of the Continuum programs, and evaluation of the system, began in 1995. Since that time, at least eleven new programs and services have become operational.

This evaluation was designed to provide information on the program characteristics and processes, the offenders participating in the Continuum programs, and professional reactions to the Continuum program. Program processes for fourteen programs were reviewed in detail during this phase of the evaluation: Intensive Supervision Program, Extended Day Treatment, Juvenile Boot Camp and Aftercare, Post-Dispositional Detention Program, Outreach/Electronic Monitoring, Law Related Education, Anger Management, Project Tutor, Weekend Community Service, Independent Living Program, Oasis House, Family Preservation, Spectrum/Family First, and Stepping Stone Group Home. Preliminary outcome information is also provided on re-offending and the progression of juveniles through the Continuum system.

The information reported in this document was primarily collected through a combination of interview, survey, and case file review activities. The evaluation results suggest that juvenile justice professionals in the City of Richmond are very satisfied with the Continuum system. Respondents were particularly pleased with the array of services and sanctions it provides and the efforts of programs to address the varied needs of Continuum juveniles. The system was also generally recommended for implementation in other localities.

Similar to last year, file review information reveals the striking life circumstances of Richmond City juveniles served by the Continuum programs. Characteristics of juveniles frequently included very low educational attainment, substance abuse, and mental health issues. Juveniles often lived in single parent households, and families frequently had histories of criminal activity and substance abuse. A review of program processes indicates that programs are attempting to respond to these client needs by modifying programming as needed and in response to recommendations from the interim report.

Although preliminary outcome information indicates that many Continuum offenders have returned to the juvenile justice system, most are charged with Violations of Probation which may be attributed, in part, to increased supervision. Probation Officers and program staff also reported improving outcomes for Continuum clients, including positive changes in school attendance and compliance with court-ordered services. Unfortunately, objective and empirical assessments of program outcomes, such as educational achievement, school attendance, and substance abuse, were not possible due to a lack of documentation of these measures.

The Continuum also seems to be influencing the juvenile justice system. Richmond City commitments to the state Juvenile Correctional Centers have decreased since Continuum implementation. However, juvenile justice professionals who interact with the Continuum program reported both positive and negative impacts of the Continuum on system efficiency. While judges seemed pleased with the impact of the Continuum on case review procedures, probation officers reported undesirable increases in paperwork and contacts. The increased time for case management may be due, in part, to the increased supervision provided by Continuum program staff. It remains difficult to determine if the Continuum is operated as a graduated sanctions system, as originally intended. While preliminary findings suggest that many juveniles are eventually placed in more restrictive environments following new charges for technical violations or new offenses, some placements are also made into less restrictive sanctions.

The Continuum is a dynamic system and continues to be refined in many respects; therefore, conclusions are preliminary at this point. Response to the Continuum effort has been positive, and programs do provide a diverse array of services; therefore, evaluators recommend that the General Assembly continue funding for these programs. However, juvenile justice professionals have identified areas of concern. Continued exploration of these concerns and the continuing effects of Continuum programming is necessary, most specifically regarding the outcomes of Continuum juveniles and its use as a graduated sanctions system. Therefore, evaluators also recommend that the General Assembly direct the Department of Criminal Justice Services to continue this evaluation effort. The evaluators have also developed several recommendations that may be currently useful in guiding program development and improving program effectiveness. These recommendations are also provided in this report.