Ensuring Equity and Access in the Juvenile Drug Treatment Court

Objective 2: Ensure equitable treatment for all youth by adhering to eligibility criteria and conducting an initial screening.

Written by Jessica Pearce, Site Manager, National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges

You’ve probably seen the image circulating on social media to describe the difference between equality and equity. It depicts three people watching (or attempting to watch) a baseball game over a wooden fence. In the first panel, everyone is treated equally (i.e., the same) – each person has one crate, but there is no equity because the crates are of different heights and the shortest person is not able to see over the fence. In the second panel, equity is achieved by ensuring that each person has the support needed to be successful – in this case by redistributing the crates. To see the meme and read about its evolution go to https://medium.com/@CRA1G/the-evolution-of-an-accidental-meme-ddc4e139e0e4.

Your juvenile drug treatment court (JDTC) is like one of those crates – your services can help ensure that youth who are experiencing concurrent substance use and delinquency have an opportunity to make changes in their lives and be successful.

Short-Term Actions

1)    Create an equity policy. Your equity policy should be reflective of the values of inclusion and focus on ensuring equity for youth of color, girls, LGBTQI youth, et al. The Annie E. Casey Foundation has created 7 Steps to Advance and Embed Race Equity and Inclusion Within Your Organization, which can serve as a roadmap for your team.

2)   Review your data. While it can sometimes feel like a thankless task, regularly reviewing program data can help you ensure equal access for all youth in your community. Looking at your data can help you identify common characteristics that lead to youth being excluded from your program such as a prior history with the juvenile justice (especially violent offenses), family challenges, geographic distance from services, etc. All programs should take a look at their acceptance data on a biannual basis and discuss the youth who were not accepted. What common factors did the youth share? If a number of youth are excluded because of a violent offense in their prior history, your team should discuss why you have this as exclusionary criteria and consider the ramifications of that decision. If there are a number of youth who are excluded from your program because of where they live in relationship to services, your team should consider what you can do to ameliorate that challenge.

3)    Use objective admission criteria. In juvenile justice there are a number of tools that can provide your JDTC with objective information to help you make admission criteria, including risk/need screening and assessment tools and substance use assessment tools. Your team should have an assumption inclusion – if a youth matches the profile (research recommends 14-17 years old, moderate-high risk, and substance use disorder) then the youth should be presumed to be included.

Long-Term Actions

Long-term actions to address equity in your JDTC will likely involve your entire juvenile justice system in reform efforts. While your team can set admission criteria for your program, you cannot always affect earlier decision points like arrest or charging. Members of your JDTC should consider joining task forces that are working to address equity and sharing the lessons you learned in creating equity within your own program.

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