Following two years of vigorous study and debate, Kansas passed comprehensive juvenile justice reforms in 2016. More than two years later, state officials examining performance measures see indicators of success across the system, as the narrower use of out-of-home placements allows cost savings from bed reduction to be redirected toward evidence-based programs that reduce recidivism, promote accountability, and demonstrate better outcomes.
The bipartisan Kansas Juvenile Justice Workgroup, composed of representatives of all state government branches and other key system stakeholders, developed the recommendations that would form the blueprint for the reform bill, Senate Bill 367 (2016). For six months, with technical assistance from The Pew Charitable Trusts and the Crime and Justice Institute at Community Resources for Justice, the workgroup examined data and met with stakeholders from across the system, finding substantial geographic inconsistency in outcomes, a scarcity of evidence- and community-based interventions, and an out-of-home population made up largely of young people adjudicated delinquent for low-level offenses. The workgroup developed a set of data-driven, research-based recommendations to address these challenges. SB 367 passed the Legislature with close to unanimous support.
Since then, officials and actors across the system have undertaken the hard work of implementation, as well as performance measurement and evaluation. An annual report published in 2017 showed initial progress towards implementation goals. The Juvenile Justice Oversight Committee’s (JJOC) 2018 Annual Report, published in November, illustrates that this progress is ongoing and bearing new fruit.
Former Senator Greg Smith, who chairs the JJOC, shared several highlights from those recent performance measures in testimony to the Kansas Legislature’s Joint Committee on Corrections in October. As he told the committee, the number of youth placed in the state’s remaining Juvenile Correctional Facility has dropped 31 percent, from 237 in FY 2015 to 164 in FY 2018, with the number of misdemeanants placed at the facility down 90 percent, from 34 to 4, over the same period. Overall out-of-home placements have decreased by 63 percent, from 878 in FY 2015 to 321 in FY 2018. In fiscal year 2018, 3,266 youth received pre-file or post-file diversion. Through the use of Earned Discharge Credits, 777 youth have earned a total of 7,308 days off their probation.
Through the reforms, Kansas has saved nearly $30 million for reinvestment in evidence-based practices to be provided to youth and their families while youth live at home. Performance measures show that these reinvestments are going a long way toward delivering more robust services for young people.
Alternatives to court processing and out-of-home placement have expanded across the state, including programs that were introduced in Kansas for the first time as a result of the reforms. In FY 2018, 99 out of 105 counties participated in Immediate Intervention Programs (IIP), diversion options that direct behavior change and address youth needs without deeper juvenile justice system involvement; 88.6 percent of youth who were provided an opportunity to participate in an IIP completed the program. Another program, Functional Family Therapy (FFT), which began in Kansas as part of this reform initiative, provides three to four months of weekly, intensive in-home counseling that develops skills like communication, conflict resolution, and effective parenting. FFT is now available statewide, and is one of three newly available intensive therapy programs that together have served more than 4,000 families. One-year follow-up data for the first cohort of families who completed FFT showed that 78 percent of the young people remain in the home, 95 percent are in school or working, and 80 percent have no new arrest.
Probation supervision of young people has been recalibrated to allow supervising officers to specialize on particular populations of higher or lower risk youth, and to tailor interventions appropriate to youths’ risk and needs. Case length caps and increased diversion mean that lower risk youth represent a smaller share of the probation population than before the reforms; the proportion of high risk youth in the supervision population has grown from 6.4 percent in 2015 to 26.7 percent in 2018. In addition, community-based sex offender assessment and treatment became available statewide for the first time as a result of the reforms, beginning in July 2016. In FY 2018, 82 percent of youth who received community-based sex offender treatment did not experience a court revocation or termination of treatment.
As Kansas continues to implement reforms, more than two years after that process began, state officials have plenty of successes to point to. Kansas is not only charting a better path forward on juvenile justice within the state, but also, in the process, offering a model for other states who want to right-size their systems and deliver better results for young people, families, and communities.