Juveniles who participated in a youth incarceration alternative program were less than half as likely to be referred to the justice system for a new felony offense, compared to juveniles who did not participate in the program, according to the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice (CJCJ) in San Francisco.
An independent evaluation of the Detention Diversion Advocacy Program (DDAP) run by the CJCJ found it was significantly effective at reducing youth recidivism compared to incarceration.
The evaluation analyzed data from the San Francisco Juvenile Probation Department and DDAP of 76 juveniles who participated in the program and a comparison group of 76 juveniles who did not.
The comparison group was chosen based on how they matched DDAP participants based on when they committed their first serious or felony offense, at what age they first received a juvenile justice system referral and their gender.
Juveniles who participated in the program were 30 percent less likely to recidivate than the comparison group. They were also 56 percent less likely to recidivate with a felony charge than the comparison group.
In addition, on average, juveniles in the program had half as many subsequent referrals to probation compared to those in the comparison group.
Based on these findings and previous literature on the topic, intervention programs that provide an alternative to incarceration are considered a viable and effective option for high-risk juveniles.
Why DDAP Instead of Incarceration?
Previous studies and literature point to the negative effects of incarceration on juveniles and suggest juveniles who are incarcerated are more likely to reoffend in the future.
Since 2000, national juvenile incarceration has decreased, in part, due to juvenile diversion programs, according to the evaluation.
This speaks to these programs’ effectiveness in reducing the risk of juvenile recidivism.
The evaluation of juveniles who participated in DDAP found their recidivism rate to be 51.3 percent compared to 73.7 percent for the comparison group.
In addition, only 23.7 percent of the juveniles who participated in DDAP recidivated with a felony offense compared to 53.9 percent of the comparison group.
Juveniles in both the DDAP and control group had a relatively high number of referrals to the juvenile justice system before the evaluation was performed.
However, comparing both groups, the juveniles who participated in the DDAP program had a higher average pre-intervention/non-intervention count, suggesting they constituted a higher-risk group than the comparison group prior to participation in the program.
History of DDAP
The DDAP Program began in the early 1990s and has been working to divert juveniles charged with serious offenses away from the criminal justice system since then.
Juveniles are able to participate in the program following a referral from the DDAP’s justice system partners with the majority of referrals coming from defense attorneys.
The majority of the program’s participants are juveniles who are already in detention or likely to be and who are at high risk of reoffending.
“We take the kids that need the help, not the ones that we think are going to succeed. We [started this program because we] wanted to demonstrate that you could make substantial reductions in the number of kids in juvenile hall,” CJCJ’s Executive Director stated in the evaluation.
“We go for the highest risk population — if it succeeds with this population, then why are you keeping the lower risk population in the hall?”
DDAP chooses to focus on having high-risk juveniles participate in its program since studies have shown that interventional and supportive programs were most effective whereas, for low-risk juveniles, programs that provided youth with a “caution” and were low intervention were most efficacious.
Following a referral, DDAP employees interview the juvenile and if they are a good match, work to identify the juvenile’s strengths and needs. They then put together a release plan that may include the juvenile receiving counseling, family support, academic tutoring and other related services.
If the judge approves the plan, the juvenile is released to DDAP supervision. If the just does not approve, the plan is revised in the hope the juvenile may be released in the future.
During the initial period following the juvenile’s release, DDAP case managers communicate and work with the juvenile daily.
The average length of case management is 16 weeks.
Blake Diaz is a TCR Justice Reporting intern.