Reaffirming the Risk Principle

June is graduation season not just for schools across the US but for the Center for Court Innovation.  For the past several weeks, our calendar has been dominated by celebrations -- youth court graduations, attendance achievement program award ceremonies, an open house to celebrate QUEST moving to new and better space, the opening of a youth photography exhibit by the Red Hook Community Justice Center, a farewell party for a beloved staff member moving to Chicago, and other events.

Today's big event was a research briefing for a select group of criminal justice officials in New York City unveiling the findings of a new research study that examines the results of the New York State Court System's adolescent diversion program.  Created by Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman last year, the adolescent diversion program features pilot programs in nine New York counties dedicated to refashioning court outcomes for 16 and 17 year old criminal defendants. (New York is one of only two states that handles these cases in adult criminal court rather than family/juvenile court.)

Our report examined the first six months of implementation of the adolescent diversion program.  Among other things, our research team documented that the nine pilot sites succeeded in assessing and linking hundreds of young people to services.  Crucially, the adolescent diversion program did not jeopardize public safety.  Indeed, the data suggests that the program actually reduced felony level re-arrests.

The study also affirmed the "risk principle": put simply, the kinds of interventions offered by the adolescent diversion program (treatment, education, etc) were more successful with high-risk young people than with low-risk young people.  This is consistent with other research documenting that intensive interventions can actually have a negative impact with those participants who are at minimal risk of re-offending.  This has important implications for how the adolescent diversion program and other similar initiatives should proceed in the days to come, suggesting that rigorous screening is crucial and that resources can be most effectively targeted to high-risk participants.

I'm hoping that today's event was a step in that direction.  The attendees -- including representatives from the court system, various district attorney's offices, and the mayor's office -- were certainly engaged and interested in teasing out recommendations for future practice.  Meetings between researchers and practitioners don't always go smoothly, but this one left me encouraged that there is a healthy community of criminal justice officials in New York City with an active interest in responding to the evidence.

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