Wednesday, September 16, 2009

New Ohio Juvenile Court "Youth Assessment System"

Ohio juvenile courts have a significant new tool at their disposal that has been developed by the Ohio Department of Youth Services and University of Cincinnati’s Center for Criminal Justice Research.

The Ohio Youth Assessment System is a "streamlined, web-based system for assessing young offenders in determining appropriate dispositions, treatment, and levels of supervision, designed, in part, to help judges decide whether they should send juveniles to more-costly state programs or less-expensive community projects," according to a Columbus Dispatch article last Friday morning.

The roots of the Assessment lie in Ohio's RECLAIM program. In evaluating those programs back in 2005 with U.C., ODYS found that the effectiveness of those programs was mitigated by the risk level of the youth being served in the program. Risk principles propose that the intensity of service be matched to the risk level of the offender, in practice calling for the focusing of resources on the most serious cases, with high risk offenders benefiting most from intensive services and low risk youth left to minimal services. In fact, some research suggests that providing intensive treatment to low risk cases can have a detrimental impact on low risk youth because it exposes them to higher risk offenders and disrupts their pro-social community networks. [Ohio's RECLAIM program was created by provisions in the 2003 biennial budget appropriations bill (HB 152), now codified at ORC §5139.41, 5139.43, and 5139.44. The complete text of the 2005 study can be viewed here, or the "Executive Summary" here]

Those results in hand, ODYS and U.C. surveyed the courts to better understand the "state" of risk assessment across Ohio's 88 counties, where it was found that 77 different instruments were then being then beingused. They seized upon the opportunity and developed this single, uniform, and statewide risk assessment platform available across-the-board to all of the counties. That study led to the formalization of the Ohio Youth Assessment System this year. [That study's "Final Report” can be viewed here along with its questionnaires & assessment forms in appendix]

In order to have a major impact on the Ohio juvenile justice system, though, the report concedes that it is important to encourage as many counties as possible to adopt it. Since Ohio is a home-rule state, local courts have the autonomy to choose their own local procedures including whether or not to use a validated risk/need instrument. As noted, the OYDS Assessment model was developed from input specific to the State of Ohio and its individual counties, and is an on-going project which will be refined and updated the same way. While the system has a state-wide overview, it is also accessible only on an individual court/county basis unique to its own attributes & characteristics.

Dr. Edward Latessa, principal investigator and head of the Criminal Justice Program at U.C., spent last Friday in Columbus with juvenile judges, magistrates, and court administrative officials in the program's official launching. He reported that about 300 people from the state's 12 pilot counties have already been trained in the System's use. Fifty-four of the state's counties, including all of the larger ones, are already onboard, having either already been, or scheduled to be, trained.

Additionally, there are no funding issues as the base-work is already in place. Court personnel have to complete two, full-day training programs and pass a written & proficiency test to be certified to use the System, after which that certification is good for three years.

Further information regarding training and registration is available on the Ohio Department of Youth Service's website.

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