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Juvenile Recidivism Study

The North Carolina Sentencing and Policy Advisory Commission recently released its “Juvenile recidivism Study: FY 2010/11 Juvenile Sample.” The research design included juveniles brought to court with a delinquent complaint that was adjudicated, dismissed, diverted, or closed from the sample period July 1, 2010 through June 30, 2011. The juveniles were tracked for a fixed three-year follow up period. Recidivism was defined as all subsequent delinquent complaints and/or adult arrests within the three years following the event that placed the juvenile in the sample. Important findings for our work include:

  1. 88% of the juveniles had a misdemeanor as their most serious sample offense;

  2. The most common type of offense (whether misdemeanor or felony) was property;

  3. Almost half (48.6%) of the juveniles in the sample were black, and black juveniles receive fewer diversions as a percentage than all other race categories;

  4. Only 5.5% of juveniles reported some type of gang involvement;

  5. Most notable findings from the risk/needs assessments indicated that 81.2% of the juveniles had school behavior problems, combined with 57.3% indicating a need for mental health care, 26.6% substance abuse problems, and 57.6% had negative peer relationships.

The results indicate that the juvenile’s attorney may be able to impact future juvenile recidivism in the following ways:

  1. Keeping your client out of court is the best key to success – advocate for formal and informal diversions:

  2. The further a juvenile was processed in the juvenile justice system, the more likely that juvenile was to recidivate;

  3. The overall recidivism rate was 42%, however, if a juvenile was adjudicated the recidivism rate increased to 53%. If the juvenile was diverted, the recidivism rate declined to 39%;

  4. Males, blacks, and juveniles aged 13-14 had higher recidivism rates, as did those with higher risk or needs scores.

  5. Advocate and be familiar with alternatives to keep your client out of detention and/or from being sent to YDC:

  6. Confinement, whether in a detention center or a YDC, increased the probability of a juvenile having an adult arrest;

  7. Overall, 37.6% of the confined juveniles (detention and/or YDC) had one or more adult arrests compared to 19.2% of juveniles who were not confined;

  8. Recidivism was lower when the response of the juvenile justice system was less invasive, either by processing and intervening with youths short of adjudication or, if adjudicated, providing disposition short of the most restrictive option of confinement.

The study concluded that the most efficient use of resources is in the community, at the front-end of the juvenile justice system. The majority of juveniles in the system benefit from rehabilitative resources of a less restrictive nature. Juvenile defenders may influence their client’s ability to benefit from these findings by being familiar with community resources as well as asking about your client’s likes, dislikes, favorite activities, and home situation. Even if your client’s matter wasn’t diverted by the court counselor, presenting alternatives and favorable facts to the prosecutor may result in a diversion for your client – and potentially a lower risk that s/he will end up moving deeper into the juvenile court or adult system.

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