The juvenile justice system is composed of a series of key decision points that impact youth, families, victims, and their communities, as well as drive local and national priorities, policies, and spending. For decisions to be objective and informed, it is absolutely critical for these decisions to be data-driven. However, most jurisdictions do not have the technology, knowledge, or capacity to apply quality data to decisions. Juvenile justice professionals, from policymakers to on-the-ground practitioners, need guidance and resources to help them to interpret and apply data to decision making.
Since its inception, NCJFCJ’s research arm, the National Center for Juvenile Justice (NCJJ), has improved the availability and influenced the use of juvenile justice system data. NCJJ developed performance measures for delinquency and dependency courts and probation to document productivity, effectiveness, quality, and timeliness. Jurisdictions across the country have adopted these performance measures and have received training and technical assistance from NCJJ to collect quality data and apply it to key decisions.
As a result of NCJJ’s focus on data-driven decision-making in the juvenile justice system, juvenile justice professionals across the field have learned not only about the importance of using data in decision making, but their capacity to do so has been expanded through training and technical assistance.
- Juvenile courts have benefited from automated reports with immediate information on individual case histories and aggregate summaries. These reports are used to make decisions on court procedures, agency policies, and even individual case outcomes.
- Several jurisdictions have benefitted from juvenile probation performance measures designed to document goal-driven outcomes reflecting community protection, competency development, and individual accountability.
- NCJJ has been instrumental in helping jurisdictions develop and implement: screening instruments that indicate the need for additional substance abuse assessment; protocols for assessing criminogenic risks and needs; and strategies for applying risk/need assessment data to case planning.
- NCJJ has an extensive history of helping jurisdictions apply the best available data to strategic and operational planning, including detention planning and court services planning.
- While laying the foundation for Pennsylvania’s Quality Improvement Initiative, NCJJ developed a structured process for programs to assess their alignment with recognized best practices, identify areas for improvement, and make concrete action plans to improve services. This structure has been applied in a variety of juvenile justice settings, including diversion programs, community-based programs, and both secure and non-secure residential facilities.
- NCJJ’s work on dual status youth has changed court practice in places like Pima County, AZ; Pittsburgh, PA; Seattle, WA; and Middlesex County, NJ. With data in hand, courts are able to safeguard against redundancies while ensuring that these youth do not fall between the cracks. Improving service delivery for dual status youth reduces their subsequent offending and improves their long term outcomes.
- NCJJ helped inform the REDEEM Act, introduced by Senators Paul and Booker, regarding current state laws about juvenile court record confidentiality, sealing, and expungement.
The NCJFCJ’s vision is jurisdictions are able to readily access training and technical assistance aimed at increasing their capacity to collect, analyze, and apply quality data to key decisions. Juvenile justice policymakers and administrators are highly adept at using data to inform decisions. There is support for the growing collaboration between service providers and the juvenile justice system so that data are easily shared, understood, and applied. There is continued development and evolution of technology designed to automate juvenile justice reports used to inform decisions. The NCJFCJ recommends setting aside federal court improvement funds to provide training and technical assistance to juvenile justice professionals to improve their capacity to make data-informed decisions.