A new report confirms the experience of veteran juvenile officers and provides the information needed to insure juvenile programs actually keep kids from pursuing a life of crime.
Deputy State Courts Administrator Gary Waint says this report is important to the state juvenile justice system and its Family Courts.
"This is benchmark work that will begin to allow us now to trend how we’re performing as a juvenile justice system," Waint says, "and inform the public about of it as well."
The report is entitled "Juvenile Offender Recidivism: 2008 Statewide Juvenile Court Report". It has been released by the State Supreme Court’s state courts administraor’s office . It is the first analysis of recidivism rates for Missouri juvenile offenders and the factors that lead to recidivism among Missouri youth. Its release makes Missouri one of only a handful of states publishing this type of information on an annual basis. In gathering the information contained in the report, all 45 juvenile officers in Missouri were surveyed. It defines recidivism as the violation of any law, whether prosecuted in the juvenile or the adult system, within a year of the initial charge.
Prior to the release of the report, juvenile officers have had to rely on shared experience, not hard facts, according to Waint. In outlining the background of juveniles most likely to re-offend Waint says the report confirms the experience of juvenile officers. The report studied juvenile offenders in 2007 and 2008. Factors that led to continual brushes with the law include: multiple referrals to the juvenile justice system, especially for assault; coming from a broken home, usually with placement in foster care; being taken into juvenile custody at an early age, perhaps as young as 13; drug and alcohol abuse; and poor performance in school.
Though Waint says the report contains few surprises for those who work in the juvenile justice system, he says it is helpful to have empirical evidence. He says that can better guide officers and help the system adjust programs to top effectiveness. Waint says the report also confirms that Missouri’s Family Courts system is very effective and can break the cycle that turns juvenile offenders into adult offenders.
Waint says intervening in a juvenile’s life pays big benefits down the road.
"If we reduce juvenile recidivism, we reduce crime, we ultimately increase public safety and, ultimately what we want to do is also reduce prison beds," Waint says.
Waint hopes the report is read, especially by state lawmakers. He says the contents of the report should convince legislators that spending money on the state juvenile justice system is a wise investment.
The complete report is online at http://www.courts.mo.gov/file.asp?id=34387