Report 2011-129 Summary - September 2012
Juvenile Justice Realignment:
Limited Information Prevents a Meaningful Assessment of Realignment's Effectiveness
Our audit of juvenile justice realignment and the Youthful Offender Block Grant (block grant) highlighted the following:
- The number of juvenile offenders under the Division of Juvenile Justice's supervision decreased from about 5,400 in June 2007 to nearly 2,500 in June 2011.
- The Board of State and Community Corrections' (board) annual reports to the Legislature regarding outcomes are based on a flawed methodology and should not be used to assess outcomes.
- The reports focus primarily on the counties' use of block grant funds rather than on their juvenile justice systems as a whole.
- The reports could mislead decision makers and the public because outcomes for juvenile offenders cannot always be directly correlated to the block grant and also because counties use other sources of funds to serve them.
- The board does not give sufficient guidance to counties and does not adequately verify the accuracy of the information it collects from them.
- We discovered several limitations in using juvenile justice data from the counties and state departments in attempting to assess outcomes of realignment.
- The four chief probation officers of Los Angeles, Sacramento, San Diego, and Yuba counties all believe realignment has been effective based on a reduction in juvenile crime, improved services, and reduced costs.
RESULTS IN BRIEF
The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation's (Corrections) Division of Juvenile Justice (Juvenile Justice) has historically operated secure detention facilities for many of California's juvenile offenders. However, in 2007 the Legislature enacted a law that required the State to transfer all nonviolent juvenile offenders to county facilities, a process referred to as realignment in this report. As a result, the number of juvenile offenders under Juvenile Justice's supervision decreased from about 5,400 in June 2007 to nearly 2,500 in June 2011. To compensate counties for the increased costs related to detaining and providing services to these realigned juvenile offenders, state law established the Youthful Offender Block Grant (block grant). According to the Board of State and Community Corrections (board), counties can use their share of the approximately $90 million annual allocation for nearly any activity related to their juvenile justice systems.
The realignment law does not establish clear goals, and the limited information that is currently available regarding the outcomes of realignment can be misleading. State law authorizes the board to monitor programs supported by block grant funds and requires the board to issue annual reports to the Legislature regarding the outcomes for juveniles who receive block grant funded services and programs. However, the board's reports are based on a flawed methodology and, therefore, should not be used for this purpose. Although the law does not specifically require the board's reports to include an assessment of the outcomes of realignment, because the board is the only state administering body referenced in the law that realigned juvenile offenders, we would expect that its annual reports would give the Legislature information with which to make such an assessment.
Specifically, the board's reports, as required by law, focus primarily on the counties' use of block grant funds rather than on their juvenile justice systems as a whole. Attempting to assess the outcomes of realignment through an examination of counties' use of block grant funds is not meaningful for several reasons. First, according to the board, state law does not require counties to spend block grant funds only for juvenile offenders who might have been sentenced to Juvenile Justice prior to realignment; rather, the board allows the counties to use the funds to serve nearly all juvenile offenders or potential offenders. In addition, counties use other sources of funds in addition to the block grant to serve realigned juvenile offenders. As a result, the outcomes of realignment cannot be directly correlated to the block grant. The board could address some of these weaknesses and improve the usefulness of its reports by working with the counties and relevant stakeholders to determine the data that counties should report.
Because of the methodology the board employs, its reports could mislead decision makers about the effectiveness of realignment by making it appear that realignment has not been effective when this may not be the case. For example, the board indicated, in both of the reports it has issued regarding block grant outcomes, that a significantly higher percentage of juvenile offenders who receive block grant funded services had a new felony adjudication compared to those who did not receive block grant funded services. This statement implies that the block grant actually increases the likelihood that a juvenile offender will reoffend, when a more plausible explanation is that some counties have focused their block grant funds on high risk offenders. Although the reports state that caution must be taken in drawing conclusions regarding the differences in the outcomes for juvenile offenders who receive block grant services and those who do not, we question why the board chose to present this sort of comparison at all.
The usefulness of the board's reports is further diminished because the board does not ensure that the data it receives from counties are consistent or accurate. For example, the board asks counties to report the services that they provided to a sample of juvenile offenders over a one year period but does not specify how counties should determine when a juvenile offender has received a service. As a result, our review revealed that Sacramento County reports that a juvenile offender receives a service—such as a drug treatment program—if he or she participates for at least one day, while San Diego County reports that a juvenile offender receives a service only if he or she successfully completes that service. Further, even though the board attempts to verify some of the data it collects from counties, we found that three of the four counties we visited had submitted inaccurate information, suggesting that the board's efforts are not very effective. If these types of inconsistencies and inaccuracies occur frequently, the board's reports could be significantly misinforming readers about key criminal justice outcomes. According to the board's field representative, the board has not received approval for funding to monitor the counties' use of block grant funds.
Because of the problems we identified with the board's reports, we did not use them to assess the outcomes of realignment. Instead, we attempted to use juvenile justice data from the counties as well as from state departments; however, we discovered several limitations to these data that further impeded our ability to draw conclusions about realignment. Specifically, three of the four counties we visited are not easily able to provide data that can be used to measure realignment outcomes. Further, although the Department of Justice (Justice) maintains two systems that track juvenile justice related data—the Juvenile Court and Probation Statistical System (JCPSS) and the Automated Criminal History System (criminal history system)—we could not use either to fully assess certain outcomes of realignment because of the limitations we observed with both of them.1
Moreover, the law does not clearly specify the goals or intended outcomes of realignment. Rather, the law asserts that local juvenile justice programs are better suited to provide rehabilitative services than state operated facilities. In addition, a Senate floor analysis, written while the realignment law was being considered by the Legislature, noted that a projected impact of the law would be to decrease the number of juvenile offenders housed in Juvenile Justice. However, these goals are both vague and non specific. Without clear goals, measuring whether realignment has been successful is challenging.
Despite the limitations we encountered in attempting to determine whether realignment has been effective, the four chief probation officers of the counties we visited—Los Angeles, Sacramento, San Diego, and Yuba—all believe that realignment has been effective based on various indicators, such as a reduction in juvenile crime, improved services, and reduced costs, suggesting that it is possible to develop goals that would indicate the success or failure of realignment. These indicators could be used to assess realignment's effectiveness. One potential indicator could be the reduction in offenses committed by juveniles. When we analyzed the JCPSS's data using this indicator, we found evidence suggesting that realignment may have had positive outcomes for many juvenile offenders and thus for the State. However, because we did not assess the reliability of the JCPSS's data, we cannot be certain of our conclusions. For example, the JCPSS data show that counties may have reduced the number of juvenile offenders who receive dispositions2 by over 21 percent from fiscal year 2007-08—the year realignment began—to fiscal year 2010-11.
Another means of measuring outcomes could be to consider the number and types of services that counties have been able to provide since realignment. Subsequent to realignment and the infusion of block grant funds, the four counties we reviewed reported having generally been able to provide new or enhanced services to juvenile offenders compared to the services they provided previously. For instance, San Diego County uses its block grant funds for a program that rehabilitates high risk offenders, and Yuba County uses its funds to target at risk youth. At the same time that counties began providing new or enhanced services to juvenile offenders, Juvenile Justice's expenditures significantly decreased, another potential measure of the effectiveness of realignment. Specifically, Juvenile Justice's expenditures for fiscal year 2006-07—the year prior to realignment—were $481 million compared to $294 million for fiscal year 2010-11, a reduction of about $187 million. Furthermore, if all other factors remain constant and the State continues to spend at levels similar to the fiscal year 2010-11 amount, including the annual block grant allocation, realignment could result in an annual savings of $93 million.
Although these indicators are encouraging, the limited—and potentially misleading—juvenile justice data that are currently available prevented us from providing a meaningful assessment of realignment outcomes. Until the Legislature and the board take steps to refine the information collected from counties and to define the goals of realignment, any measurement of realignment outcomes is arbitrary and may not fully represent the impact realignment has had on juvenile offenders and the State as a whole.
To ensure that it has the information necessary to meaningfully assess the outcomes of juvenile justice realignment, the Legislature should consider amending state law to require counties to collect and report countywide performance outcomes and expenditures related to juvenile justice as a condition of receiving block grant funds. In addition, the Legislature should require the board to collect and report these data in its annual reports, rather than outcomes and expenditures solely for the block grant.
To maximize the usefulness of the information it makes available to stakeholders and to increase accountability, the board should do the following:
- Create policies and procedures that include clear, comprehensive guidance to counties about all aspects of performance outcome and expenditure reporting.
- Consider verifying the counties' data by conducting regular site visits on a rotating basis or by employing other procedures to verify data that counties submit.
Justice should take additional steps to ensure the accuracy and completeness of data the counties enter into the JCPSS.
To assess the outcomes of realignment, the Legislature should consider revising state law to specify the intended goals of juvenile justice realignment. To assist the Legislature in this effort, the board should work with relevant stakeholders to propose performance outcome goals that can be used to measure the success of realignment.
Although the board generally agreed with our observations and stated that it would address the shortcomings we identified if additional resources were available, it disagreed with several of our conclusions and recommendations. In addition, Corrections agrees with our conclusions and stated that it will take steps to implement our recommendation. Finally, although Justice disagreed with our assessment of the data limitations associated with the JCPSS, it generally agreed with our recommendations.
1 Please refer to the Introduction's Scope and Methodology for the California State Auditor's assessment of the reliability of these data.
2 A disposition is an action taken by a probation officer or juvenile court, such as committing the juvenile to probation or to incarceration in a local or state facility, after a juvenile has been referred to the probation department for an alleged behavior such as truancy. Our analysis included those juveniles who received the following types of dispositions: direct file in adult court, diversion, probation, remanded to adult court, or wardship. Some offenders could be counted more than once if they received dispositions for multiple referrals.