DMC Action Network

Launched in 2007 as a project of the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the DMC Action Network brings together state and local leaders from 17 select jurisdictions to expose them to the latest tools and ideas to effectively and sustainably reduce the disproportionate contact of youth of color with the juvenile justice system. The Network, which is managed by the Center for Children’s Law and Policy, also provides jurisdictions with the opportunity to exchange information about strategy implementation and employ data to measure results.

DMC Reduction Best Practices

State and county leaders have struggled to reduce DMC. In many cases, these efforts have lead to an analysis of DMC, but generated little or no actual reduction in over-representation. Other jurisdictions have implemented delinquency prevention and intervention programs in response to growing over-representation of youth of color at various system contact points. Unfortunately, these efforts generally have not led to sustainable reforms of system policies and practices that contribute to racial and ethnic disparities at key decision-making points. The DMC Action Network adopts a data-driven model to reduce over-representation. That model focuses on eliminating racial and ethnic disparities in decision-making and program outcomes in order to reduce system entry and penetration of youth of color charged with low-level offenses or technical violations.

Strategic Innovations

A “Strategic Innovation” is a specific effort that will lead to measurable outcomes to reduce DMC. Network sites work to develop and implement four Strategic Innovations throughout their participation in the DMC Action Network. In alignment with the Network’s goal of fostering the exchange of information and ideas among sites working to reduce DMC, Network sites implement these DMC reduction strategies through “Strategic Innovations Groups” (SIGs). As part of these SIGs, sites collaborate to address and resolve implementation barriers and challenges, and develop practical lessons to inform the national knowledge base on effective DMC reduction practices at the state and local level.

Data Collection and Analysis

Each Network site is involved in activities to regularly collect and report useful data on DMC, and to use those data to identify areas for reform. Network data practices emphasize concrete steps that sites can take to develop their data capacity (i.e., regular data collection, analysis, and strategic use), build sustainability in data-driven practices, and measure incremental changes over reporting period. Key activities in the data practices include:

  • Burns Institute Level One Data Template – The Burns Institute Level One data template is the touchstone for the Data Collection and Analysis Strategic Innovation. The W. Haywood Burns Institute (BI) developed the template and piloted it in Peoria, Illinois, which is a Network site. The template collects data on arrests, secure detention, and use of alternatives to detention – all of which are disaggregated by race, ethnicity, gender, geography (e.g., zip code), and offense. Although the template focuses on the front end of the system (i.e., arrest to adjudication), it also includes violations of probation that lead to secure detention.
  • DMC Performance Measures – The other major component of Data Collection and Analysis Strategic Innovation involves DMC Performance Measures. Presently, there are no accepted or widely-used performance measures for DMC reduction. The Network’s performance measures seek to quantify results in sites that have implemented policy, practice and program reforms.

Culture and Community

Inadequate knowledge of community strengths and resources, inability to accurately count Hispanic youth and families, language barriers, and intolerance for increasingly non-traditional family structures within the communities most affected by DMC are common challenges in juvenile justice reform. The Network’s Culture and Community Strategic Innovations include efforts to connect system leaders to the families that they serve and create opportunities for community leaders to participate as full partners in the DMC decision-making and monitoring of implemented strategies. DMC Action Network sites work to address three aspects of this issue:

  • Cultural Competence – Focuses on the best practices to ensure that system processes and community programs are culturally competent and responsive to youth and families of color. Sites engaged in this work evaluate the cultural competence of effective program models that serve youth of color, and increase capacities of parents and caregivers to become full participants in the judicial process along with system practitioners
  • Language and Ethnicity Data Collection – Focuses on best practices to identify the under-counted Hispanic population in the juvenile justice system and to improve linguistic services for youth and families with Limited English Proficiency (LEP). Sites engaged in this innovation promote adoption of the guidelines for ethnicity data collection mandated for the federal government and introduced in Pennsylvania by Models for Change, collect accurate language barrier data, and increase translation of judicial proceedings and documents.
  • Community and Family Engagement – Focuses on work to engage new partners in DMC reduction strategic planning who are not traditionally involved in system reform work. Key nontraditional partners include parents, youth, community-based service providers, agencies, advocates, and grassroots organizations that demonstrate interest in DMC and delinquency issues. These strategies also involve interventions and services that assist parents in navigating the juvenile justice process and accessing needed community-based services and programs.

Arrest and Pre-Adjudication

The Arrest and Pre-Adjudication Strategic Innovations involve efforts to reduce system entry of pre-adjudicated youth who present little risk to public safety and who can be either diverted from the point of arrest or safely supervised in the community pending scheduled court appearances. These youth are largely youth of color. These innovations also involve the introduction of new tools to objectively determine if a youth meets detention criteria and new community-based programs to serve as alternatives to detention. DMC Action Network sites work to implement and monitor the impact of the following strategies:

  • Arrest Diversion – Focuses on implementation of new or expanded arrest diversion models to reduce DMC. Activities to implement school-based diversion programs decrease the number of youth arrested because of school discipline problems. School-based diversions also ensure that youth continue their academic programs without disruption or expulsion from school. Activities to improve relationships and perceptions between law enforcement officers and youth also help to reduce DMC at the arrest decision point.
  • Detention Risk Screening – Focuses on design and implementation of a detention screening instrument to objectively measure youth risk of reoffending or not appearing for scheduled court hearings. Many jurisdictions struggle with implementation issues because they do no invest in educating staff on the instrument’s purpose and goal and because they fail to obtain buy-in for implementation.
  • Evening Reporting Centers and other Alternatives to Secure Detention – Focuses on data-driven practices to develop and expand community supervision programs for pre-adjudicated youth, specifically Evening Reporting Centers. Network sites engaged in this innovation work to implement and evaluate program efficacy of specialized ERC programs to reduce DMC.

Post-Disposition

Post-Disposition Strategic Innovations address DMC following disposition, focusing on the use of graduated sanctions to reduce incarceration for probation violations and the inappropriate uses of secure detention for youth pending placement. Strategies also include development of new research and projects to increase understanding of successful youth adjustment to post-disposition placement and community re-entry following release from care. DMC Action Network sites work to implement and monitor the impact of the following strategies:

  • Violations of Probation – Focuses on the development of an array of graduated responses that takes into account seriousness of the probation violation and risk to public safety. The principle underlying this strategy is that youth can and should be held accountable for their misbehavior, but that holding them accountable does not necessarily require locking them up. Graduated responses can include a wide range of actions that become more progressive with each step, such as admonishments from a probation officer, written assignments, community service, increased community supervision, assignments to day/evening reporting program, short-term incarceration, or other responses.
  • Placement and Adjustment Issues – Addresses problems that affect youth of color in post-dispositional placements and re-entry. Key activities include exploration of the link between system policies and youth adjustment in the community. Two Network sites began exploring this difficult issue in which long-term incarceration adversely and disproportionately affects youth of color. Allegheny County has studied cases of youth who “fail to adjust” (FTA) to post-dispositional placements in an effort to reduce FTAs and improve program effectiveness. Baltimore City has implemented an Educational Placement Project to expedite youth re-enrollment in appropriate education programs upon leaving secure detention.

Contact Tiana Davis, DMC Policy Director, to learn more about the DMC Action Network.

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