NJJA Speaks with Dr. Anne Hobbs, JJI Director

By Monica Miles-Steffens, NJJA Executive Director

Evidence-based programs and practices have become the norm in regard to expectations by funders, legislators, and system stakeholders. But finding and implementing such practices can be far more difficult, yet a recent article published in the OJJDP Journal of Juvenile Justiceshows that a program close to home here in Nebraska has promise.

I recently had the opportunity to sit down with Dr. Anne Hobbs, Director of the Juvenile Justice Institute (JJI) at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, to learn more about the research she and her colleagues had done in Lancaster County. Recently JJI has been doing work on some of the tough issues related to juvenile justice in Nebraska including truancy, detention alternatives, and reentry.

When I asked Dr. Hobbs about how they got involved in the Lancaster County project, she indicated that she was hesitant at first. She said, “I am a big believer in diversion, and I wasn’t sure that a program like this could have the outcomes they expected. But there are always programs that surprise you, and sometimes less intervention is more effective.”

Lancaster County has offered a strong juvenile diversion program for many years. In an effort to more effectively serve a very low-risk target population, in 2009 they implemented an Early Assessment Program. To evaluate the program, JJI examined youth enrolled in Juvenile Diversion – which involves formal processing and services – and the Early Assessment Program, which is a process designed to screen youth out-of-system involvement by conducting a brief assessment on the youth and essentially diverting youth from diversion. The Early Assessment Program is facilitated by the County Attorney’s Office utilizing one specific prosecutor to ensure consistency.  The program specifically targets low-risk youth charged with misdemeanors who the program feels may not even need diversion-level services. To make this determination, they utilize the Nebraska Youth Screen, an abbreviated version of the Youth Level of Service/Case Management Inventory (YLS/CMI). A random sample of 400 youth from both programs was used to look at long-term recidivism outcomes.

Dr. Hobbs shared a brief overview of what they found. “In the end, we were able to show that kids who received only a phone call had lower recidivism two years later. The key is screening out the right youth using the right assessment. It is OK to use the lowest level of intervention if you are targeting the right population. Lancaster County’s process is more timely and cost effective.” Dr. Hobbs also indicated that this process could be easily replicated in other jurisdictions. JJI would like to find another county willing to implement the screening process, so that the research can be replicated. If the findings hold true in other localities, it establishes validity.

The full article can be found in the current issue of the OJJDP Journal of Juvenile Justice at  https://www.journalofjuvjustice.org/ . For more information about JJI, contact Dr. Anne Hobbs atahobbs@unomaha.edu .