The juvenile justice field is rapidly evolving, and juvenile probation departments all over the country are working tirelessly to keep up. While some departments are at the forefront of innovative solutions, others are feeling overwhelming pressure to keep up with new initiatives, technology and conflicting agendas from various stakeholders. No matter where an agency falls on the spectrum and what challenges they are currently facing, a predictive analytics tool gives agencies imperative information to achieve their desired outcomes. From selecting a diversion or prevention program for a first time offender to carefully choosing a congregate care facility for a youth with a long history of delinquent behavior, predictive analytics offers the ability to serve as the intermediary solution between subjective and objective decision making in this unique field.
Let’s take a look at three (of the many) benefits of using predictive analytics within a juvenile justice agency:
Most juvenile justice agencies are using a risk/needs assessment to determine the risk level of youth they serve. Many of these assessments are based on identifying risk (age, number of arrests, etc.), need (impulsivity, temperament, substance abuse, anti-social beliefs, etc.) and responsivity of the youth (gender, maturity, cognitive ability, etc.) as well as characteristics of the service provider (structure, location, staffing, length of stay, etc.). These factors lay a solid foundation for a predictive analytics tool to find trends and patterns that would be impossible for a probation officer or juvenile justice worker to be able to identify and analyze on their own. A predictive analytics tool has the capacity to make a prediction, based on those risk, need, and responsivity factors, around the likelihood that a youth would be successful at completing a program/intervention, remaining out of care, or the likelihood their risk level would decrease after completing the recommended program/intervention.
A predictive analytics tool can show projected outcomes based on a service provider’s historical data and make predictions about how effective that provider is at producing various outcomes (such as a youth completing a program or remaining out of care). If the predicted outcomes are significantly different than the actual outcomes then there may be some concerns within that provider’s milieu (staffing, programmatic changes, etc.); this is essential for placing agencies, such as probation departments, to be aware of and to either support the provider’s efforts to increase positive outcomes or to work with other providers who have demonstrated the ability to sustain more positive outcomes. In addition to providing accountability to service providers, this information can also help identify gaps in services and be used to justify a change in or realignment of programs and/or contracts.
Juvenile justice agencies can easily fall under scrutiny for their use of congregate care placements because of the potential for negative effects on the juveniles and their families. Unfortunately, most youth who are placed in congregate care end up cycling through multiple out-of-home placements due to inappropriate program match. Just the smallest decrease in the number of youth requiring out-of-home care would lead to substantial financial savings within the juvenile justice system which could be reinvested in prevention, diversion, and community-based programs. More importantly, that reinvestment could mean juvenile offenders experience less trauma, remain in their community and home with their families, and are still able to participate in the interventions they need to successfully complete the terms of their supervision and remain out of the system.
Predictive analytics is an innovative solution that allows juvenile probation departments and juvenile justice agencies to effectively meet their goals in a systematic and objective fashion. With appropriate implementation, a predictive analytics tool can help these systems to reduce the frequency of crimes committed and the amount of time youth spend out of their home, as well as provide quality interventions to youth at any depth in the system.
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