Policymakers, advocates, and even some researchers claim that youth confinement rates across the United States dropped in recent years due to changes in policy and practice. Such claims remain unproven, but voters and elected officials are inclined to accept them as factual because they are offered by reputable agencies and repeated in news media sources. Without reliable evidence, however, the notion that state-level youth confinement rates fall primarily in response to progressive policy reforms is merely appealing rhetoric.
Over the last five years the number of police stops and arrests involving Capital Region youths has fallen more than 45 percent, according to state data. It's a stunning drop -- but one without a clear single reason, say law enforcement and juvenile justice system professionals. Several factors are likely in play, including an overall drop in crime in the country, changes in the drug trade, increased use of alternatives to incarceration and changes in youth culture, said Jeffrey Butts, director of the Research and Evaluation Center at John Jay College of Criminal Justice. “I’ve been doing this for a long time, tracking trends, and something definitely feels different than it did 20 years ago,” Butts said.
The decline in possession of weapons at school and in the prevalence of weapon-related threats in schools also holds true for overall juvenile crime, according to Jeffrey Butts, director of the Research and Evaluation Center at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City. “One popular theory is that the drug trade was much more dangerous 30 years ago. Kids that lived in neighborhoods with active drug sales going on often felt that they needed to have a gun on them to protect themselves,” he said. “The daily threat from street-corner drug sales has gone way down.”
A seminar with the Committee on Law and Justice (CLAJ) at the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. Speakers explored juvenile diversion practices and policies, their costs, and benefits. Watch the entire seminar. Review the agenda. https://youtu.be/onKL6bgq9Fc
An expert in juvenile justice policy and research said that prosecutors' justification for declining to press charges suggests an office-wide bias in favor of officers. "The memorandum from the state attorney uses language revealing the intent of the office, which is to minimize the violent nature of the attack," said Jeffrey Butts, who is director of the Research and Evaluation Center at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York.
New York State’s Raise the Age legislation is an important opportunity to improve public safety, but it is just that – an opportunity. The success of Raise the Age depends on the efforts of every partner in the larger justice system, from police, to prosecutors, probation agencies, and the broad network of service providers who work with youth to keep them from becoming more deeply involved in the justice system.
That longstanding approach was problematic at best, according to Jeffrey Butts, director of the Research and Evaluation Center at John Jay College. “We’re setting ourselves up for failure when we take a young person who is 14- or 15-years-old, send them hours away from their family, and break all their ties to their communities,” he says.
Nonetheless, outside experts say the program has started to show results. Residents “stay connected with their families and they are more likely to remain in local schools,” wrote Prof. Jeffrey Butts, from the John Jay College of Criminal Justice’s Research and Evaluation Center, in a 44-page report on Close to Home in 2015.
“It’s ‘Lord of the Flies’ culture with some of the people they have managing these facilities,” added Butts, who has worked with policymakers in 28 states, largely on youth justice. “With strong kids controlling the weak kids — and the staff controlling the strong kids. “You are using violence to try to teach kids not to use violence.”
Jeffrey Butts, director of the Research and Evaluation Center at John Jay College of Criminal Justice at the City University of New York, said the Wisconsin prisons’ problems come from poor management. Staff who argue they need things like pepper spray, solitary confinement and shackles are saying “our culture within the facility has become so corrupted by violence we have no other options,” he said. The methods “are not necessary, they don’t work and they just lead to more violence,” said Butts, who has researched youth justice for nearly three decades.
“No one has ever been able to find direct, defensible evidence that the behavior of the system regarding juvenile versus adult jurisdiction plays a direct role in overall crime trends,” said Jeffrey Butts, director of the John Jay College of Criminal Justice’s Research and Evaluation Center. “Crime trends behave the way they behave, and they have a lot more to do with general conditions in the community and everything else. If you’re working in the system, you start developing the belief that you are in control of these trends. Whenever people look at it seriously, it’s never true.”
The Juvenile Justice Information Exchange (JJIE.org) hosted a Google Hangout (online live chat) between the director of the R&E Center, Jeffrey Butts, and Cynthia Lum from the Center for Evidence-Based Crime Policy at George Mason University. The conversation covered a number of topics, including the nature of evidence-based practices, how programs or practices become evidence-based, and the forces that can make the connections between evidence and practice problematic.