1994 Finalist
Essex County, New Jersey
Innovations in American Government Awards
Innovations in American Government Awards
New Jersey
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Between 1981 and 1993, Essex County, New Jersey, saw the rate of juvenile convictions jump from 1,000 to 5,000 per year. In the absence of federal and state funding, the burden of creating programs to brace against juvenile recidivism fell to local jurisdictions which, facing their own budgetary restrictions, often sacrificed probationary programming in an effort to cut costs. Community Assistance in Rehabilitation Efforts, or Project CARE, makes use of volunteers to support anti-recidivism programs.

Project CARE, a judicial-community partnership established in Essex County in 1986, is designed to capitalize on the advantages of having seven to 10 citizens from a specific, identifiable community work directly with a similar number of juvenile offenders who reside in the same community. The program design embodies the principle that people working in groups can be more creative and dynamic in problem solving, treatment planning, and provision of services than an individual working alone. Diversity in skills, values, methods, and knowledge will have a synergistic impact on the offender's adjustment under supervision.

The CARE Team, comprised of the probation officer and community individuals, meets regularly to screen referrals, review case materials and interview the juvenile and parents or guardians. The team develops a case plan with each juvenile that includes: written behavioral objectives; educational and vocational goals; community service requirements; and referrals to appropriate social service agencies. The plan is formalized into a contract which is signed by the juvenile, family, and CARE Team. In addition to the monthly meetings, the assigned citizen will meet with the juvenile regularly to assist in fulfillment of the contract, seek out necessary resources, and support the juvenile and family efforts.

Between 1986 and 1987, the national juvenile recidivism rate was 45 percent, while juveniles involved in Project CARE only re-offended at the rate of 27 percent. By 1993, the recidivism rate for Project CARE juveniles dropped further to 22 percent. Community involvement with Project Care is also an indicator of success; volunteers donate over 5,592 hours to the program each year.