Colorado Juvenile Justice System To Undergo Comprehensive Review

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Colorado's juvenile justice system will undergo a comprehensive review over the next six months. The goal is to bolster efforts to help keep youth out of the system as well as improve outcomes for those already in it.

Youth arrest and incarceration rates have fallen, but the state says Colorado Department of Youth Services spent nearly $7 million more this fiscal year on probation personnel and treatment services. And youth in the system have a high likelihood of reoffending—recidivism rates over the three-year period between 2013 and 2015 were between 49 and 55 percent.

Colorado Senator Bob Gardner, R-Colorado Springs, says that although the state has a history of improvement efforts, there's still a lot of work to do.

"It's not clear that our outcomes are any better than what we might get if we were doing almost nothing at all," Gardner says.

Good outcomes for young offenders include "being able to function in society; do well; be successful; hold a job; have families," he explains.

New York-based Council of State Governments (CSG) Justice Center will conduct the review. Lawmakers, judges, state and local juvenile justice leaders, and other stakeholders will partner with the CSG and the Improving Outcomes for Youth taskforce. Sen. Gardner and Rep. Pete Lee, D-Colorado Springs, will serve as co-chairs of the state task force.

Project manager Nina Saloman says over the next six months the Justice Center will hold interviews with people involved in the juvenile justice system, including youth and their families, probation staff, and others in the legal system.

"We're asking all of these groups for their recommendations and solutions because they are the best voices for knowing what would work and what would work better than what's currently happening," Saloman explains.

The review will also include data analysis to see how well Colorado's policies and practices are working.

"States across the country, including Colorado, have been doing a fantastic job in terms of reducing overall population of youth coming in contact with the system, but at the same time policy makers are unsure of what's actually happening to those youth," Saloman says.

Senator Bob Gardner says the taskforce hopes to find improvements that are both effective and efficient.

"Every one of the young people who goes into a program and doesn't have a successful outcome…we lose them."

The CSG will present key findings from the review to the inter-branch task force. Potential changes and recommendations will be introduced in the 2019 legislative session.