Task force identifies juvenile justice policies that advance Colorado’s effort to enhance public safety and improve youth outcomes

(Nov. 14, 2018) -- Gov. John Hickenlooper today praised the Improving Outcomes for Youth Statewide Task Force for developing policy recommendations that, if passed into law by state legislators, would strengthen the juvenile justice system, increase public safety, and lead to better outcomes for youth who come in contact with the juvenile justice system.

“Putting children in confinement should be a last resort, not a first option,” said Governor John Hickenlooper. “These policy recommendations are data-driven, practical proposals that will improve our state’s juvenile justice system. I commend the task force and urge lawmakers to consider these measures in the next legislative session.”

The Improving Outcomes for Youth Statewide Task Force created by Gov. Hickenlooper and co-chaired by Sen. Bob Gardner (R) and Rep. Pete Lee (D) includes legislators, law enforcement officials, judges, state and local juvenile justice leaders, and other stakeholders. The task force included a staff member from the Colorado Department of Public Safety, Division of Criminal Justice, as well as four members of the Juvenile Justice Delinquency Prevention (JJDP) Council, which is supported by CDPS.  

Although Colorado’s juvenile incarceration rate fell 47 percent between 1997 and 2015, approximately half of the youth who are discharged from the Division of Youth Services’ custody re-enter the system after two or three years. And 35 percent of youth completing juvenile probation have a subsequent case filed within three years of discharge.

In addition, approximately 49 percent of petty misdemeanor offenses such as marijuana possession and minor theft that end up in district court result in some form of system supervision, including probation. Many Colorado youth who are placed on juvenile probation are identified as having a low risk to reoffend.

The policy changes approved by the task force address diversion, detention, supervision, and services. They would, among other things:

  • Expand accessibility to evidence-based, pre-adjudication juvenile diversion programs across the state;

  • Develop clear criteria for detention eligibility in order to limit secure detention for youth;

  • Adopt a validated risk and needs assessment instrument to identify a youth’s risk of reoffending and use results to inform court decision making and case planning;

  • Establish statewide standards for juvenile probation that are based in research; and

  • Expand the use of kinship care for youth in detention and commitment and under consideration for out-of-home placement.

The recommendations include improvements for juvenile diversion, which is partially funded by state dollars that managed by the Office of Adult and Juvenile Justice Assistance (OAJJA) within CDPS.  

"What is wonderful is that many of the areas addressed in the Diversion recommendations were ones OAJJA and/or the JJDP Council (through its Code Review Committee) were already discussing or were addressing," said Meg Williams, manager of OAJJA. "This provided a wonderful venue for expanding the discussions and ultimately in securing support."

Earlier this year, The Council of State Governments (CSG) Justice Center chose Colorado to receive assistance through Improving Outcomes for Youth (IOYouth): A Statewide Juvenile Justice Initiative, with the goal of aligning Colorado’s policies and practices with what research shows works best to reduce recidivism and improve outcomes for youth. IOYouth is a project of the National Reentry Resource Center and is supported by the U.S. Department of Justice.

The CSG Justice Center, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization, conducted an analysis of Colorado’s juvenile justice system, including an in-depth data review as well as focus groups and interviews with local and state agency officials, prosecutors, defense attorneys, judges, law enforcement officials, probation staff, community-based service providers, and youth and families impacted by the system across the state. Over the course of the last year, the CSG Justice Center presented its key findings to the inter-branch task force at four meetings.

The policy proposals are being drafted into bills and are expected to be introduced in the 2019 legislative session by Sen. Gardner and Rep. Lee. The final recommendations can be found here.