Cook County has long been a leader for innovation in juvenile justice efforts.  In 1993, the county was selected as one of four initial model sites for the Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative (JDAI), which sought to reduce the use of detention for youth accused of nonviolent crimes.  Today, the JDAI has expanded to more than 300 counties nationwide, and Cook County Juvenile Probation continues to both utilize and inform the initiative’s ongoing work.

Recently, the Annie E. Casey Foundation released new recommendations for juvenile probation offices in a report titled Transforming Juvenile Probation: A Vision for Getting It Right.  The report utilizes the 25 years of staff and youth experiences in JDAI as well as substantial study with researchers, practitioners, youth, families, and pilot probation transformation sites.   Among the recommendations are a number already being implemented by Get IN Chicago, partners, and grantees – a testament to our community’s ongoing efforts to improve how we approach youth health and safety.

The report authors strongly advocate for more diversion interventions, in which arrested or police-involved youth are referred to community-based organizations or released back to their families without formally entering the justice system.  A University of California Irvine study tracking 532 youth found that diverted youth were far less likely to be suspended from school or re-arrested.  Diverted youth also self-reported far less re-offending behavior than youth formally processed in court.  Additionally, the Casey report mentioned strategic recommendations for increasing the effectiveness of probation with the highest-risk youth. Specific recommendations and promising practices included:

  • Warn and release/no intervention – The report recommends that warnings without judicial intervention should be an option – and often a default –  for first-time, low-level offenses.  In Cook County, a number of diversion programs and systems are already in place, from station adjustments, JISC referrals, and now, as part of Strengthening Youth through a Network of Care (SYNC), referrals to Get IN Chicago programs.
  • Individual Service Plans – Full assessments of youth needs and strengths, followed by referrals to community partners, were also recommended.  SYNC embeds this strategy with CANS assessments for all participating youth and referrals to services such as mentoring, cognitive behavioral therapy, academic support, and more.
  • Risk Level Determination – Other recommendations echo research that Get IN Chicago has commissioned regarding youth risk level and youth on probation with Chapin Hall at the University of Chicago and Cook County Juvenile Probation.  This research will help our local probation office determine which young people might require additional support and help them distribute caseloads for maximum effectiveness.

While the amazing work being done every day in Chicago is no secret to us here, it is encouraging to see the efforts of our partners and grantees highlighted as best practices by leaders across the country.  The report authors noted that in many jurisdictions, collaboration between public systems and local nonprofits was often lacking or non-existent.  We are especially proud to have helped establish more collaboration and coordinated support for youth.  Kudos to Chicago!

View the full report, Transforming Juvenile Probation: A Vision for Getting It Right