Creating Safer Communities Through Change

by Donna McBride, Pinal County Juvenile Court Program Administrator II

Often, when someone finds out I work for Juvenile Court, the old line comes out, “Back in my day, if I got in trouble at school I got it worse when I got home.” And for many, we can say this is true. But times were different then. Our communities, our families, our kids live in a different world. Whatever the reason, we must be proactive in helping our young people and their families be more successful.

Family is Key to Success of Youth

Historically, juvenile probation supervision and its interventions have focused primarily on the youth. The court recognizes that the dynamics of the family are key to the success of youth under court-ordered supervision. This alone is the most challenging component to our work and the most critical. We can spend thousands of dollars intervening with youth by way of outpatient or inpatient treatment, and while they are responding well to treatment and have successfully completed it, they are placed back in the home with their parents.

In many cases, services have not been implemented in the home, and a youth returns home and shortly thereafter has re-engaged in negative and/or new delinquent behavior. As the director of Pinal County Juvenile Court Services, Denise Smith says, “This has been a long-standing area of concern, and I felt it was time that we re-evaluate the way we do business.”

Reducing Repeat Offenders

In 2014, the strategic agenda of the Arizona courts was published, called Advancing Justice Together: Courts and Communities. Arizona’s Juvenile Justice Services Division of the Administrative Office of the Courts (AOC) began a process of certifying counties (community programs/probation) as evidence-based practices (EBP) compliant in early 2015. EBP is a body of research that has provided tools and techniques proven to be effective at reducing recidivism. These tools and techniques allow probation officers to determine risk and crime-producing characteristics of probationers and place them in appropriate supervision levels and programs.

Pinal County Juvenile Court Services was one of the first counties statewide to integrate EBP in probation supervision, case management and treatment services for youth. Research indicates integration of EBP across these areas improves efficiency in managing probation youth and produces sustained reductions in recidivism resulting in improved public safety.

The issue of how to effectively implement EBP and measure recidivism is often debated in the probation community. One of our main goals is to address what will effectively reduce recidivism among probationers. Internally, we began discussing this issue, along with what research was being done to find the answer to our question.

Programs for Delinquent Youth

In February 2016, we had our first collaborative meeting to address the design of treatment and supervision programs for delinquent youth. After a year of working through the details of a new model, the changes were presented and approved by the Administrative Office of the Courts, authorizing Pinal County to pilot the model in one geographical area of Pinal County.

San Tan Valley was selected as a pilot site based on results of data presented that suggested juvenile arrests were consistently higher in this area. We now have a model of supervision designed to use strength-based interventions to improve family engagement and relationships by using evidence-based supervision with an emphasis on working with youth on their criminogenic risk and needs through appropriate programming and treatment.

Our team strives to help families identify and use natural supports; community connectedness is paramount to continued success of the youth. “We are happy to report great success with this model and as a result, have recently identified Casa Grande for the next pilot site,” Smith says.

As an organization, Pinal County Juvenile Court continues to move forward with the times and train staff to provide the best service in today’s trying times. Improving the family will result in healthier, safe communities in Pinal County.

Contributors to this story:

Juvenile Court Services Staff Celena Angstead, Stacie Blackburn, Cory Jacobs and Director Denise Smith.

pinalcountyaz.gov/JuvenileCourtServices