The mission of Alaska’s Division of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) is to “hold juvenile offenders accountable for their behavior; promote the safety and restoration of victims and communities; [and] assist offenders and their families in developing skills to prevent crime” (http://hss.state.ak.us/djj/). (A juvenile is an individual under the age of 18 at the time of committing an offense.) To meet these goals, DJJ utilizes methods to estimate a youth’s risk of recidivism, and to assess the youth’s needs for services. Since 2005 DJJ has been using the Youth Level of Services/Case Management Survey Inventory (YLS/CMI) that is also used by a number of other states. The YLS/CMI includes questions about eight “life domains”—areas of experience and background—with scoring on a scale of 0 to 42. Higher scores indicate greater risk of new offenses, and the scores in each domain give information about services that could benefit the youth.
Annually DJJ looks at recidivism rates for youths released from DJJ supervision. However, the agency had not examined these rates in relation to YLS/CMI scores. In 2010, DJJ requested the Alaska Judicial Council (AJC) and the Institute of Social Economic Research (ISER) to look at records for 507 Alaska juvenile offenders released in 2008: 402 released from formal probation and 105 released from secure treatment. The researchers were asked to examine the relationship between recidivism and YLS/CMI initial scores upon entering the juvenile justice system. DJJ also wanted to know if the YLS/CMI scores did assist in predicting recidivism of youth offenders. To ascertain recidivism rates, the DJJ definition of recidivism was used: “an adjudication or conviction on an offense committed within a year after the youth’s release from Division supervision or secure placement” (p. 4 of the report). (Adjudication refers to the formal delinquency hearing at which it is determined whether the youth is a delinquent minor as the result of an offense.)
AJC and ISER released their report in August 2011, Does YLS/CMI Help Predict Recidivism? An Assessment of the Division of Juvenile Justice’s Use of the Youth Level of Services/Case Management Inventory. This article summarizes the major findings of the report.
Administration of the YLS/CMI
DJJ policy was to administer the YLS/CMI within the first 21 days after a youth was adjudicated delinquent, if the individual had not had a YLS/CMI assessment in the previous six months. The survey instrument included questions about prior and current offenses/adjudications, family circumstances and parenting, education and employment, peer relations, substance abuse, leisure and recreation, personality and behavior, and attitudes and orientation.
A juvenile probation officer (JPO) administered the survey in an interview setting with each youth, computed the numerical score (0 to 42), and assigned a risk level of Low, Moderate, High, or Very High based on the score. However, JPOs were allowed to override the assigned risk level based on the score to a higher or lower risk level.
The YLS/CMI was also administered to youths on formal probation or in a DJJ institution at other times during the period the youths were receiving DJJ services. The DJJ policy was to conduct a YLS/CMI assessment every six months while a youth was on formal probation, or if the youth’s situation changed significantly. A total of 459 of the youths had at least one YLS/CMI score from an assessment prior to their release from DJJ; the mean score was 14.7—which falls into the Moderate risk category.
The study notes that DJJ staff did not consider the YLS/CMI useful for assessing sex offender risk. According to DJJ policy all juvenile sex offenders are given a minimum contact level of Moderate supervision, and youth who commit unclassified felonies are given a required contact level of High supervision.
Of the 507 youths in this study, 79 percent were released in 2008 from supervised probation and 21 percent were released from secure treatment facilities. The majority—84 percent—were male, and 16 percent were female. Most individuals (86%) were between 17 and 19 years in age, but the overall age range was 14 or under to 19 years of age. (See Table 1.) Of the 507 youths in this study, 39 percent were Alaska Native/American Indian, 35 percent were Caucasian, 9 percent were Black/African-American, 10 percent were Multi-ethnicity, 3 percent were Asian, 3 percent were Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander, and 2 percent were Other. In looking at community of origin, over one-third of youths (38%) were from the Anchorage/Mat-Su region, and nearly one-third (32%) were from rural Alaska. In a note, the report comments on the disproportionately high percentage of Alaska Native and Black/African-American youths in the juvenile justice system. Alaska Natives between the ages of 10 and 19 represented 22 percent of the Alaska population in 2008, but accounted for 39 percent of the youths who were adjudicated or committed to formal probation or secure treatment in that year. Similarly, Black/African-American youths comprised 5 percent of Alaskan youths between the ages of 10 and 19 in 2008, but accounted for 9 percent of the youths who were adjudicated or committed to formal probation or secure treatment in that same year.
The report indicates that DJJ attributes at least part of this over-representation to over-representation that exists at the referral stage, and that over-representation is also due in part to “two circumstances: (1) minority teenagers are at higher risk than White teenagers of being detained and formally charged; and (2) minority teenagers are more likely to have detention screenings than White teenagers” (p. 8).
Overall about one-third (30%) of the youths released from DJJ services in 2008 were adjudicated or convicted of a new offense committed in the first year following release. Among youths released from secure treatment, the recidivism rate was 38 percent; among youths on formal probation the rate was 28 percent. (See Table 2.) For the recidivism analysis, the authors used initial YLS/CMI scores and did not include overrides. Overrides by JPOs did not change scores, but changed only risk category—which impacted such items as services. A higher initial YLS/CMI score was associated with recidivism for males. Initial YLS/CMI scores were not associated with recidivism for females—that is, the scores did not accurately predict recidivism for females. Overall however, scores for males and females did not differ significantly, nor did scores among ethnic groups.
Scores were significantly lower for youths from rural areas compared to youth from urban areas. For males, higher initial YLS/CMI scores were associated with recidivism. Older males were more likely to reoffend than younger males, and Alaska Native males—from both urban and rural areas—were more likely to reoffend. Youths who were released from secure treatment had higher initial YLS/CMI scores than youths on formal probation, which was anticipated because individuals on formal probation generally had less serious offenses and fewer treatment needs.
The risk of recidivism reported in this study relates to a youth’s risk of reoffending after adjudication. This may be different than the risk of reoffending, as measured by subsequent YLS/CMI assessments, after release from formal probation or secure treatment. Because of the treatment and supervision provided by DJJ after adjudication, the risk of reoffending at release is expected to be lower than the risk of reoffending after adjudication. As this study was only able to examine the YLS/CMI scores at the time of adjudication, additional research is needed to identify whether the YLS/CMI scores at the time of release are associated with recidivism after release.
Study Conclusions and Recommendations
The initial YLS/CMI assessment was a useful tool for understanding the likelihood of recidivism for juvenile male offenders. However, there was no statistical correlation between the risk levels assigned by DJJ and the risk of reoffending.
The report authors encourage DJJ to consider the recommendation by Multi-Health Systems, Inc. (MHS)—the developer of the YLS/CMI—that DJJ’s current scoring system be changed to account for possible differences in gender and whether youths are on formal probation or in secure treatment. MHS made this recommendation based on extensive recent research on the use of the YLI/CMS which included Alaska Division of Juvenile Justice data. DJJ is also encouraged to review its policies and procedures to increase the usefulness of the YLS/CMI, both initially and at subsequent assessments, and to continue efforts to improve data collection and analysis for a better understanding of the effectiveness of DJJ’s assessments and services.
DJJ has been taking steps to reduce the disproportions of minority youth who are in the early stages of the juvenile justice process. Given the high level of recidivism of Alaska Native youth as discussed in the report, DJJ should now consider what additional steps might help reduce recidivism among Alaska Native youth.
The full report is available at the Alaska Judicial Council website http://www.ajc.state.ak.us/reports/djjreport8-11.pdf. Information on the Alaska Department of Health and Social Service Services Division of Juvenile Justice is at http://hss.state.ak.us/djj/.