Co-authors Michael Rempel and Suvi Hynynen Lambson discuss the findings of their study, The Adolescent Diversion Program: A First Year Evaluation of Alternatives to Conventional Case Processing for Defendants Ages 16 and 17 in New York. The study examines the first six months of the pilot Adolescent Diversion Program, finding that diverting youth to services does not increase recidivism rates and, in fact, reduces recidivism for those who would otherwise pose the greatest risk to public safety.
The following is a transcript:
MIKE REMPEL: When you give intensive treatments to high-risk individuals, they tend to be effective. When you give intensive treatments to low-risk individuals, you actually increase the chances that they will re-offend.
WOLF: Hi, I’m Rob Wolf, director of communications at the Center for Court Innovation, and this is another New Thinking podcast. Today I’m with Mike Rempel, who is the director of research here at the Center for Court Innovation, and Suvi Hynynen Lambson, who is a senior research associate at the Center for Court Innovation, and they are both co-authors of a new study that looks at the Adolescent Diversion Program, which is a response to a unique situation we have here in New York.
New York and, I understand, North Carolina are the only two states that do what?
REMPEL: They’re the only two states that treat 16- and 17-year-olds as criminally responsible adults. All other states in the country treat them as juveniles.
WOLF: And so the Adolescent Diversion Program, which was implemented at the behest of the chief judge of the state of New York, Jonathan Lipmann, in January 2012, is an attempt to bring New York in line with the other 48 states.
SUVI HYNYNEN LAMBSON: Yeah, it’s a first step in that direction.
WOLF: So your study looks at the first six months of the implementation of this program. So before we talk about the results, how does the Adolescent Diversion Program work and how is it implemented?
LAMBSON: The Adolescent Diversion Program is a pilot program that was implemented in nine different sites throughout the state. There’s a general program model that each of them applied, such as they have a specialized track or court part. The judges are trained in adolescent development. The third thing that all of the programs have are expanded sentencing options. This would include treatment or social services options or community service that’s especially geared for the 16- and 17-year-olds. The interventions vary in length: two to five days compared to three to six months more common in Queens, Nassau, Westchester, and up to 12 months, which you sometimes find in Erie [County]. Upon completion of the program, the case would be dismissed or the charge would be reduced. And participation is, of course, voluntary.
WOLF: What kinds of cases were these nine pilot sites seeing?
LAMBSON: So most of the pilot sites were seeing exclusively misdemeanor cases. Two of the sites do accept some felonies, but I don’t believe any of them accept violent felonies, and some of them do include violation cases as well.
ROB WOLF: Meaning lower than misdemeanor?
LAMBSON: Meaning lower than misdemeanor. So there actually wouldn’t be a criminal conviction attached to that; a violation conviction isn’t reflected on a criminal record.
WOLF: When you looked at these first six months of the program, what are the characteristics or the outcomes you were looking at?
LAMBSON: Well that’s a great question, Rob. We actually have nine different research questions. I won’t go over each of them in detail, but generally speaking we were looking at how many 16- and 17-year-olds were there in these nine sites? How many of those were actually eligible for the program? Did they comply with their assigned court mandate? The impact on criminal convictions, the impact on case outcomes, and, of course, the impact on recidivism.
WOLF: So let’s try to move through some of these results quickly.
LAMBSON: There are about almost 14,000 16- and 17-year olds who went through courts in these nine sites. Sixty percent of them were eligible to participate in the program, but actually only 15 percent of them did end up being in the ADP pilot intervention. And the volume varied greatly from site to site. The Bronx and Queens had 4 percent and 6 percent, respectively, of the eligible cases, while Nassau and Erie had 62 percent and 69 percent.
WOLF: Is there something to be learned from that? Why there was such a broad difference?
LAMBSON: I think so. I mean at least if we look at the case of Nassau, we know that they really tried to implement this to the broadest extent possible, probably the way we had envisioned it being implemented throughout the state if possible. Nearly everyone was eligible except for violent felony offenders, and they had a universal screening assessment that they used with everyone.
WOLF: And what did you learn about compliance?
LAMBSON: We were able to look at four sites on their compliance and found out that on average they had an 80 percent compliance rate, which is really good.
WOLF: So now let’s talk about case outcomes. What did you find there?
REMPEL: First of all, we were interested in whether the ADP initiative reduced the collateral consequences of conviction by reducing the percentage of 16- and 17-year-olds that received a criminal conviction. What we actually found was that because the program was largely focused on a misdemeanor population, they did not have that affect. That population is not in large numbers in the first place ending up getting a felony or misdemeanor conviction.
Now a lot of the 16- and 17-year-olds who don’t receive a criminal conviction, receive something called a youthful offender filing, which is a form of conviction, but it doesn’t create a criminal record, or they get convicted for a violation offense, which you mentioned earlier—it s a conviction, but it’s not a "crime" and again the case is sealed so it doesn’t create a criminal record.
If you take all of these categories together, we found there is not any change in one direction or another, although we found some interesting variations from site to site. We found that Nassau actually reduced any of these outcomes that involved some sort of guilty plea by about 30 percentage points—from about 45 percent to about 15 percent. And then we found in some of the other counties it fluctuated more closely to what it had been. Use in jail is something that is often discussed. We found that the net across all of the sites we looked at, there was not an effect, but we found a few places where jail was reduced. Nassau was one of those places, which actually reduced jail to zero from 4 percent.
WOLF: So if I understand correctly, you’re saying overall, statewide, although a goal ostensibly of the Adolescent Diversion Program was to reduce some of these punitive outcomes like a criminal record or jail among the 16- and17-year-olds, overall statewide it didn’t really do that, although it did in some particular jurisdictions, such as Nassau County.
REMPEL: That’s correct. And going into this research we had two sets of expectations. Those who planned the ADP pilot desired a reduction in the collateral consequence of conviction. Those who were leery of the pilot were concerned about the problem of net-widening, where these new pilots might take 16- and 17-year-olds who, in the old system, would have had their cases dismissed, and end up leading them to now plead guilty. So we found that none of those expectations or concerns were ultimately the case. Things stayed about where they were and with that in mind we then go forth and look at other outcomes.
WOLF: Other outcomes such as, for instance recidivism. What did you see there?
MIKE REMPEL: Okay, so let me say when we look at—our measurement was re-arrest. When we look at any type of re-arrest, with some differences looking at the sites combined. We also looked at felony-level re-arrest. When we looked at more serious criminal behavior, we actually did find that overall the sites reduced felony recidivism. We also found that they significantly reduced violent felony recidivism. We also found some interesting variations by site. In a nutshell, two of the sites—the Bronx and Queens—tended to reduce re-arrest. And Queens particularly reduced felony-level re-arrests. I believe it went from 19 percent to three percent. We saw that Erie County increased re-arrests.
WOLF: So why don’t you tell me why these results varied from site to site.
LAMBSON: Well, I think that the main conclusion that we found was that it’s really related to risk level, that the people who were at the highest risk of re-offense actually ended up with the best outcomes when they received these targeted services, and those people who had the lowest risk, if they got services, they actually performed more poorly.
REMPEL: And Rob, this is actually something that is often surprising to practitioners, but it reflects a consistent finding across the years of research across multiple kinds of interventions, that when you give intensive treatments to high-risk individuals, they tend to be effective. When you give intensive treatments to low-risk individuals who, in the absence of an intervention would likely not have re-offended, you actually increase the chances that they will re-offend. Why? Because the intervention will probably involve things like putting them into groups where they are spending a lot of time right next to high-risk peers who can then have contaminating influences.
So when we go back to those site-specific findings that we mentioned earlier with respect to Erie seeming to increase re-arrest rates, and the Bronx and Queens seeming to decrease re-arrest rates, once we adjust for the fact that Erie tends primarily to serve a low-risk population, and the Bronx and Queens tend primarily to serve a high-risk population, we actually fully explain that finding. It’s not so much that it’s something about the services in Bronx and Queens that are more effective than the services in Erie, it’s that the Bronx and Queens are doing a better job serving the kind of target population that research says they should serve: a high-risk population that will benefit from an intensive intervention.
WOLF: Well thanks so much. It’s really been great talking to you and learning about the results of your study, which listeners can download from our website at www.courtinnovation.org. The study is called the Adolescent Diversion Program: A First Year Evaluation of Alternatives to Conventional Case Processing for defendants ages 16 and 17 in New York. I’m speaking with two of the report’s four authors, Mike Rempel, who is the director of research, and Suvi Hynynen Lambson, senior research associate here at the Center for Court Innovation.
BOTH: Thanks Rob.
WOLF: I’m Rob Wolf, director of communications at the Center for Court Innovation. You can listen to more of our podcasts on our website or on iTunes. Thanks for listening.