Gangs and Juvenile Justice

The juvenile justice process, often a critical intervention point in the lives of troubled youth, has to carefully balance prevention, intervention, public safety, offender accountability and rehabilitation, and restoration. The juvenile justice system has shifted its orientation over time, in the degree to which it focuses on punishment versus prevention, for example. A particular issue of concern in the realm of juvenile justice currently is the impact of gang violence on the lives of young people. ILJ has worked on many research and technical assistance projects regarding youth violence, gang violence, and the juvenile justice system, including serving as a technical assistance provider for Project Safe Neighborhoods, the U.S. Department of Justice’s anti-gang and gun crime initiative.

Current and Past Projects

Urban Street Gang Drug Trafficking Enforcement Program

Under this grant from the Bureau of Justice Assistance, ILJ provided technical assistance to five demonstration sites: police departments in Tucson, Arizona; Atlanta, Georgia; Fort Wayne, Indiana; and prosecutors’ offices in New York County (Manhattan), New York, and Kings County (Brooklyn), New York. To develop model gang enforcement strategies, ILJ drew upon the lessons learned by the demonstration sites and the findings from a survey of over 175 police departments, serving mid-to-large size jurisdictions, on gang enforcement strategies and level of gang activity. ILJ completed a prototype model and operations manual for use by other jurisdictions seeking to address their gang problems.

National Assessment of Gang Prosecution

For the National Institute of Justice, ILJ conducted a national assessment of gang prosecution strategies and legislative initiatives related to gangs. The study included a survey of 375 prosecutors nationwide to learn more about their experiences and concerns, and to gain a better understanding of successful and innovative prosecution approaches. Follow-up case studies were prepared on selected sites. A detailed legal and legislative analysis was prepared as part of this study. Legislation included enhanced criminal penalties for criminal street gang participation and for the commission of gang-related crimes, as well as civil and juvenile provisions in a few states. The final report discusses prosecutors' experiences in using gang-specific statutes, drug and weapons laws, state and federal RICO laws, and other strategies to combat gang-related crimes.

Prosecutor and Judicial Decisionmaking in Juvenile Waiver Cases

ILJ conducted a study of prosecutor and judicial decisionmaking in cases where waiver from the juvenile to the criminal court was proposed. The study sought to determine key decisional factors, especially the availability of treatment and penal resources in the two courts. Phase I of the study involved a review of relevant legislation. Phase II of the study involved a telephone survey of prosecutors and judges.

Prosecutor and Judge Use of Adult Defendants’ Juvenile Records

ILJ completed a study of how prosecutors and judges obtain and use information about criminal court defendants’ juvenile records. Phase I of this study for the National Institute of Justice provided a national assessment of laws and practices in the criminal courts, including a review of the 50 states’ laws and surveys of practitioners in the 200 largest jurisdictions in the country. The practitioners surveyed by telephone included prosecutors, chief probation officers, and heads of the central record repositories holding criminal history and juvenile court records. Phase II of the study entailed intensive field work in two jurisdictions—Montgomery County, Maryland and Sedgwick County (Wichita), Kansas. In these two sites, all violent crime cases filed in the Superior Court were reviewed to determine case outcomes, sentences, and how juvenile records were used by the judges per the states’ sentencing guidelines requirements.

Children At Risk (CAR)

Under a grant from the Bureau of Justice Assistance, ILJ provided technical assistance to the Children At Risk (CAR) program, earlier known as Strategic Intervention for High Risk Youth (SIHRY). The CAR program is a coordinated multi-agency approach to helping at-risk youth, tested specific intervention strategies for preventing and controlling illegal drugs and related crime, while fostering healthy development among youth in drug- and crime-ridden neighborhoods. CAR connected the components of criminal justice and social services.

CAR cities served as demonstration programs with grants from the Bureau of Justice Assistance and Columbia University's Center for Addiction and Substance Abuse. ILJ provided technical assistance on the criminal justice component through cluster conferences, site visits, and training. Technical assistance focused primarily on the roles of police, prosecutors, courts, and probation/parole, working in a comprehensive systems approach with social services and the schools. A manual explaining how other jurisdictions may initiate a similar program was developed. ILJ also contributed law enforcement data and assessments to an overall impact evaluation of the CAR program.

Youth Violence in the District of Columbia

This study of the incidence of violence committed by and against youth in the District of Columbia examined characteristics of juveniles and violent incidents, including access to firearms and patterns of behavior of juveniles at risk of becoming victims or perpetrators of violence. The project also involved developing a strategic violence reduction plan in collaboration with community residents, agency representatives, and city leaders.

The study included interviews with 250 youth residing in high crime areas, focus groups with community leaders, and a review of court and other agency programs. Data was analyzed on youth appearances in juvenile or criminal court during a two year period, to track all contacts with the justice system.

Juvenile Jail Removal Cost Study

With the Community Research Center in Champaign, Illinois, ILJ staff participated in a study for the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. The study, mandated by Congress, focused on state and local efforts to remove juveniles from adult jails. It assessed these efforts in three major areas: population, costs, and ramifications. A survey of the 50 states was completed; the survey examined the experiences of each state with respect to removal. In addition, ILJ developed cost models for a range of alternative programs in order to inform future policy on achieving removal. Considered alternatives included secure juvenile detention, community residential care (e.g., group homes, shelter care), and community supervision (e.g., home detention, foster care, intensive supervision). ILJ collected client, program, and operational cost data from over 100 alternative providers across the nation in the course of developing the models.

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