Juvenile Justice Bulletin --July 2000 --Client Eligibility and Selection

Client Eligibility and Selection

The basic eligibility criteria are the same across sites. Eligible youth:
  • Are male.

  • Have been committed to the custody of the State juvenile corrections agency.

  • Are from a selected county/counties.

  • Will be placed at a specified juvenile correctional facility.

  • Are at high risk of reoffending based on the results of a site-specific risk assessment instrument.10

Each site has a limited set of exclusionary offenses (e.g., sex offenses) or conditions (e.g., severe mental health problems). Those youth who meet all the eligibility criteria are placed in the IAP-eligible pool and assigned randomly by NCCD to either IAP or the control group.

The New Jersey Implementation Context

The most significant contextual issue for understanding the IAP experience in New Jersey is the turbulent organizational environment in which implementation occurred. The unstable environment resulted from two major changes that took place in the organizational structure of juvenile corrections.

When the program was introduced, and during the first 6 to 9 months of planning, youth institutions, community residential centers (group homes that were to be used as step-down facilities for IAP youth), and parole officers were under the jurisdiction of the Department of Corrections (DOC). In the first reorganization (1993), responsibility for the residential centers was transferred to the Department of Human Services/Division of Juvenile Services (DJS). In practical terms, this meant that youth moving through the three stages of the IAP model (institution, transitional facility, parole) would move from DOC jurisdiction to DJS jurisdiction and then back again. As a result, the site was required to obtain the commitment and cooperation of two State agencies with differing responsibilities and priorities during program planning and the initial months of implementation.

The so-called organizational split was one of the major obstacles to early implementation because so much time was spent overcoming turf issues and getting cooperation and coordination between the two departments. After the first year of implementation, however, both DOC and DJS administrators were reporting that IAP had vastly improved communication, coordination, and understanding of mutual responsibilities between the institutions, the transitional centers, and the parole system. Several staff indicated that they felt they were functioning for the first time as "part of a team." Overcoming the split was seen as one of the major accomplishments of the project at that point.

Just as these interagency IAP issues were being resolved, the second major reorganization took place. In December 1995, the DOC's juvenile components (institutions and parole) and DJS residential centers were put under the auspices of a separate, third agency—the newly created Juvenile Justice Commission (JJC). The switch from DOC/DJS administration to JJC administration involved a transition period that lasted more than a year. As a result, very little administrative attention was paid to IAP throughout the second half of 1996 and into early 1997. During this time, the project was essentially leaderless, being maintained solely by the efforts of line staff, and did not continue to develop programmatically.

JJC was a large and new bureaucracy with wide-ranging responsibilities that included getting established and organized, overhauling the outmoded and overcrowded New Jersey Training School for Boys (the major secure juvenile correctional facility), and transforming the dysfunctional juvenile parole system. The small IAP project, with no more than 25 to 30 participants at any point, was not a priority. This is not to suggest that JJC ignored the project. Both the agency administrator and the chief of the parole division believed strongly in the concept. And the new IAP coordinator (the assistant parole administrator, who took over IAP in February 1997) made significant efforts to get the by-then derailed IAP back on track. It was, however, a question of focus, energy, and priorities. JJC simply had too much to do and too many larger issues at stake to spend the time required for cultivating a small, federally funded experiment.

Intake Issues

The number of youth enrolled in the demonstration project's experimental and control groups is lower than expected. Early planning studies indicated that a minimum of 200 youth (IAP and control group) in each site were expected to be enrolled during the first 2 years of intake. However, after approximately 3 years (November 1998), all the sites except Nevada had fallen far short of this goal: Colorado had randomized 150 youth, Nevada had randomized 212, and Virginia had randomized 121.

Two key factors in the reduction of the IAP-eligible pool were institutional crowding and the system's efforts to control it. In Colorado, at about the time that IAP was being introduced, the State legislature mandated more extensive use of privately contracted beds for serious offenders in an attempt to reduce crowding and costs. DYC responded by expanding dramatically the number of contracted beds with organizations such as Glen Mills and the High Plains Youth Center. Filling these beds then became a priority, and the unanticipated consequence was a reduction in the number of eligible youth who remained at DYC's Lookout Mountain facility. Approximately one-fourth of all high-risk youth committed to DYC were not eligible for IAP because of placement at private facilities.

A similar situation occurred in New Jersey, where officials aggressively diverted large numbers of committed youth from the IAP "host" institution (New Jersey Training School for Boys) to smaller, less-secure public facilities. There, too, approximately one-fourth of the high-risk youth were made ineligible for IAP because of these diversion practices. The situation in Virginia was somewhat different. Officials at the local level (Norfolk) introduced a series of programs designed as alternatives to institutionalization approximately 1 year after IAP was implemented. Although no data are available, it is believed that these programs helped reduce the overall level of commitments to the State and lowered the number of youth who might have been eligible for IAP.

The lower-than-expected enrollments have potential implications for the evaluation (e.g., a smaller study population) but also had some programmatic ramifications. For example, IAP and non-IAP youth were mixed in the IAP-designated cottages in Virginia during the first 2 years of operation. This presented difficulties for institutional cottage staff as they tried to implement IAP-specific services for one portion of their unit's population and not the other. In addition, the "low and slow" intake levels meant that the number of youth actually in the aftercare phase remained much lower than anticipated during the first 2 years of implementation.11

Each of the sites took steps to address these intake issues. These included making case-by-case decisions, in a limited manner, to accept risk scores slightly below the cut-off (Nevada, New Jersey, Virginia); lowering the risk scale cutoff points to define more youth as high risk (Nevada, Colorado); prioritizing institutional beds for IAP youth (Colorado); and lowering the age eligibility from 16 to 13 years of age and designating a second institution as an IAP host facility (Virginia). Only the steps taken by Nevada, however, appear to have had a sustained impact on IAP enrollments.

Participant Characteristics

Data on the characteristics of the IAP-eligible population indicate that the sites are in fact serving their intended targeted population of high-risk, high-need offenders.12 Given the aggressive diversion practices at several of the sites, the youth ultimately selected for the project are in many ways the most difficult in the correctional population. One parole officer has commented that "having one IAP kid is like having two of any other parolee."

The age of the IAP-eligible population is quite similar across sites—at least 80 percent of the youth are age 16 or older. The groups are very different, however, with respect to ethnicity. In Colorado, the project population is primarily Hispanic (39 percent) and white (34 percent), Nevada's youth are primarily African American (39 percent) and white (37 percent), and Virginia's youth are predominantly African American (83 percent).

Offense histories differ considerably by site. Colorado youth are significantly more likely to have been committed for a person-related offense (49 percent) than youth in either Nevada (17 percent) or Virginia (14 percent). At the same time, Colorado youth are less likely to be chronic offenders (three or more prior adjudications) or chronic felony offenders (three or more prior felony adjudications) than is the case in Nevada and Virginia.In Colorado, only 30 percent of the high-risk youth have three or more adjudications (compared with 97 percent of the youth in Nevada and 88 percent of those in Virginia), and only 7 percent have three or more prior felony adjudications (compared with more than half the youth in the other two sites). These data are presented in figures 1 and 2.

As shown in table 2 above, large proportions of the high-risk youth in each site have personal and family problems that can present significant barriers to successful reintegration. At least three-fourths of the youth in each site were not attending school at the time of their commitment to the State juvenile corrections agency. One-fourth were identified as being in need of special education. Each site also had substantial numbers of youth with major mental health or substance abuse problems and youth who had been victims of abuse or neglect. Just as problematic is the family environment to which the youth will likely return upon release to aftercare. Approximately half of the youth in each site had a family member with a major substance abuse problem, and an even larger percentage had a family member who had been incarcerated.

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Implementation of the Intensive Community-Based Aftercare Program Juvenile Justice Bulletin July 2000