Juvenile justice expert Jeffrey Butts said he's not surprised that JJIE's analysis found the similar recidivism rates. "It's a finding I would predict in all states," he said. In part, that's because society holds a false expectation about juvenile lockups, "a fantasy that incarceration is treatment," said Butts, director of the Research and Evaluation Center at New York's John Jay College of Criminal Justice. "We lock them up and then we convince ourselves it's good for the kids too."
Even if we observe a number of instances when state reforms are followed by lower incarceration, we have to test whether the causal hypothesis holds up in the absence of reform? If we lined up all the states according to whether they had enacted meaningful reforms in their juvenile justice systems, would their incarceration trends line up in the same way, with high reform states showing more decline and low reform states showing less? Moreover, does the relationship persist over time and under varying circumstances?
Reducing capacity at secure residential facilities frees up scarce resources for developing quality wrap-around services within the community, said Jeffrey Butts, director of the Research and Evaluation Center at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York. “If we increase the juvenile justice budget by 10 times, we would not have these (secure) buildings,” Butts said. “We would have a full-time teacher and a social worker and a cognitive therapist and a job placement coordinator. We would just create teams of support around that kid and try to recreate the good parenting that they’re lacking.”
"I think in the future, just from economics alone, we will have a lot more public-private partnerships. The job of the government should be to support and manage contracts with private providers—not to deliver all services. Of course, there should also be really strict rules and regular monitoring of private programs."
But Jeffrey Butts, director of the Research and Evaluation Center at John Jay College of Criminal Justice at the City University of New York, co-authored a 2011 report comparing different juvenile justice reform strategies and said even nearly two decades’ worth of data is not enough to draw from in some cases. “My criticism of RECLAIM Ohio and a lot of the others [modeled after it] like REDEPLOY Illinois is we don’t really know if they will work because most of them were implemented during a point in which crime was on the rise,” in the mid 1990s, said Butts. That nationwide rise was followed by a nationwide fall. “A lot of the retrospective review of their effectiveness has been done during the crime decline,” he said. “We’ve all been riding our sleds down the same hill, congratulating ourselves on how fast we’re going, but we don’t really know what’s going to happen when we hit bottom,” he said.
Jeffrey Butts, a justice scholar at John Jay College who has worked with the city on analyzing its juvenile capacity needs, notes that a city-administered system could create new financial incentives to keep kids out of lockups altogether, since incarceration is many times more expensive than alternative programs that provide community-based supervision alongside services like family counseling and job training. "If you have $100 to spend and you can either use that money to put one kid in a facility or work with three or four kids in the community, you'll find that the impulse to put kids in secure facilities goes way down," says Butts.
That’s how co-evaluators Jeffrey Butts of the Chapin Hall Center for Children at the University of Chicago and Jennifer Yahner of the Urban Institute were able to illustrate overall improvement in the patterns of interaction among organizations and agencies in communities hosting the Robert Wood Johnson (RWJ) Foundation’s Reclaiming Futures initiative.
Jeffrey Butts, a national juvenile justice scholar, said that the District, long perceived as “a backwater of waste and ineffectiveness,” has become “a beacon of innovation and leadership in juvenile justice.” He called the District “the leader of a new movement to employ the principles of positive youth development to guard the public safety while improving the life chances of young offenders.”
“It’s a mixed picture,” Chapin Hall Research Fellow Jeffrey Butts said at last month’s forum, at the Urban Institute in Washington. One thing appears fairly certain, he said: “The famous crime decline in America is over.” Considering the relatively small raw numbers involved in the national juvenile totals, it’s hard for juvenile justice researchers to believe that many of the local headlines they see are warranted. “If you frame this as a surge or spike, and then there’s a shooting, that’s how [the public] will understand the shooting,” said Butts, who released a brief in November on the subject, titled “Too Soon to Tell.”
In a new report, Juvenile Drug Courts and Teen Substance Abuse (Urban Institute Press, 2004), Urban Institute researchers Jeffrey A. Butts and John Roman examine the history, mission, operations and evaluation of juvenile drug courts to find out what’s known about their ability to reduce drug use and recidivism.