In the 1990s, the media dubbed many juvenile offenders "superpredators," youths who committed crimes without remorse and for whom violence was a way of life. Once "put away," they were forgotten. Few knew that their incarcerated conditions and care suffered "substantial and widespread deficiencies" according to a report released by the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) of the Office of Justice Programs in the U.S. Department of Justice. It often took a tragedy before institutions examined their performance.
In response to the 1994 report, and at the request of the OJJDP, the Council of Juvenile Correctional Administrators (CJCA), a national nonprofit organization, developed and directed the Performance-based Standards (PbS) for Juvenile Correction and Detention Facilities project to address the problems of overcrowded facilities, high rates of injury among youths and staff, frequency of suicidal behavior, and inadequate or non-existent health and mental health care. PbS is a system that helps juvenile agencies identify and monitor critical areas of performance in order to make corrections and detention centers safer and more effective.
This program encompasses many firsts, beginning with an agreement on and adoption of national performance standards and measurement tools within the juvenile justice system. For the first time, data collection and reporting is systematic and system-wide. Facilities report data twice a year in seven primary areas: safety, security, order, education, health/mental health, justice and reintegration. Thirteen states have adopted PbS for their entire juvenile systems, another 13 states have selected sites participating on a voluntary basis. Together, data from 115 facilities provides a picture of the quality of institutional life for approximately 12,000 youths.
The Internet provides easy and effective reporting and analysis; data is submitted through a web portal created by CJCA, and is centralized and processed by the PbS system. Easy-to-read bar graph reports that depict each facility's outcome provide immediate feedback.
Once the data is analyzed, a facility can chart its performance over time and compare itself to other facilities in the PbS system. One facility's report revealed that the time residents spent in solitary confinement averaged more than twice that of all others. In an effort to reduce this time, the institution devised a new policy, developed a behavior management program and trained staff. Within a year and a half, the average time had been reduced to 48 hours, with the goal of eliminating the practice over time.
Following a review of the data and the comparative information, each facility develops an improvement plan with the assistance of the PbS site staff. CJCA then monitors the change through PbS in the targeted areas in order to learn if a change or improvement is taking place. Best practices from other participants are also shared.
PbS offers a uniquely effective and efficient method for a facility to engage in self-assessment and self-improvement. This tool for the management of the safety, care, education and treatment of incarcerated young offenders--who will one day re-enter society--has strong potential in a variety of custodial and treatment agencies outside of the juvenile justice system.