New Approaches Reduce Juvenile Delinquency

New Approaches Reduce Juvenile Delinquency

Published On: 

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

At least by one measure, juvenile delinquency has significantly declined – with intakes in the Mid-Hudson Valley region down more than 70% since 2000. Is this a little known public policy/social services achievement?

Readers may be familiar with the success of the “Raise the Age” campaign this spring. New York lawmakers adopted legislation raising the age of criminal responsibility from 16 to 18. Previously, New York was one of only two states in the country (the other being North Carolina) to prosecute 16- and 17-year-olds as adults in criminal courts. Under the shift, most criminal cases involving 16- and 17-year-olds will be diverted to Family Court or to judges with access to social services and special training.

Juvenile Delinquency IntakesBut the thinking and advocacy behind the successful campaign has also driven a series of changes in the past few years in how the criminal justice and social services systems treat and serve misbehaving young people in New York. These changes have contributed to the decline in delinquency rates both in the region and across the state. They are grounded in research about adolescent brains, a growing understanding of how traumatic experiences affect young people’s development, and an increasing body of evidence about effective approaches for engaging off-track youth.

The research helped make the connection between adolescents’ ability to regulate risk-taking with exposure to trauma. Even the most well-adjusted teens often have trouble limiting risk-taking behavior because of the developmental stage of their brains. For youth with a history of trauma and connected risk factors such as abuse, poverty, and homelessness – it’s that much harder, according to staff members of Family of Woodstock.

Family of Woodstock is a broad-based social services agency that provides a variety of programs to youth and families in Ulster County, including those involved with the court or probation systems. These include programs such as One80, which is a criminal diversion program providing an alternative to Family Court for youth ages 7 to 15 who engage in risky behavior like fighting, violence, and drugs. Referrals to the program come from probation departments, police, and schools.

Programs like One80 use restorative justice principles and practices such as interviews with youth about how their behavior has affected others and community conferencing through the Juvenile Community Accountability Board, which meets with youth and their families to talk about how young people can right their wrongs. Staff in these programs also work with youth to develop life skills, learn to better manage their emotions, have their health needs addressed, and provide opportunities for healthy recreation. Providing young people a stable environment and positive options for fun are important components of the program. Of the 54 youth served in the pilot phase of One80, 51 did not reoffend in the following year.

Family’s Supervision and Treatment Services for Juveniles Program works with youth ages 12 to 18 in the probation or Persons in Need of Supervision (PINS) court program, most of whom are not regularly attending school. Youth are provided similar services in life skills, and anger management, and are involved in pro-social activities such as hiking.

Because adolescent brains are still developing, they are very malleable to change. Positive experiences, stable environments, and introduction to more opportunities and resources than they may have seen in the past can literally reshape their brains and lives. Meaningful, consistent praise and encouragement are important – “you can’t lay it on too thick,” a staff member at Family of Woodstock said.

A key part of the push to more effectively serve troubled youth has been identifying validated tools that can assess the risk posed by individual adolescents and attempt to ensure that they receive appropriate services in the least restrictive or labeling environment. Given the new research and understanding on adolescent development, programs that avoid labeling youth as criminals and criminalizing youth misbehavior will lessen unintended effect of creating criminals.

“We can help kids get on a better track,” said Executive Director Michael Berg.

For more information on juvenile delinquency in the Mid-Hudson Valley see the Community Profiles’ juvenile delinquency indicator.

-A +A
Find us on Facebook